Florida’s tourist economy is dependent on clean water. Continued algae blooms in Lake Okeechobee that are released into east and west coast estuaries and red tide outbreaks in southern Florida have severely impacted fishing and beaches. Tourists are finding other destinations.
Nutrients – primarily nitrates and phosphorus – are the most urgent danger to Florida’s water quality. More than 2,100 water bodies in the state are deemed impaired.
The Federal Clean Water Act requires establishment of Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) which identify the maximum amount of pollutants that a waterway can safely bear. In 2017 the five-year average phosphorus runoff into Lake Okeechobee, primarily from agriculture north of the lake, was more than five times the TMDL allocation. The average annual nitrogen loads have steadily increased since 2010 despite diversion of the Everglades Agricultural Area runoff. The result of this massive loading of nutrients was an algae bloom covering 90 percent of the lake this summer (2018).
Florida’s 2016 water bill altered plans for reducing TMDLs and instead required Basin Management Action Plans (BMAP) to be developed based on unique features of the area. This plan extends the deadline to meet TMDLs by at least 20 years and deleted effective testing and monitoring procedures. Reductions in TMDLs would be supported by Best Management Practices. However, these are voluntary and have not been developed or utilized in much of the state.
Leadership in Tallahassee needs to establish accountability to insure compliance by responsible parties to achieve water quality standards on an expedited schedule following BMAP completion. The state also needs to increase funding and cost-sharing opportunities for water quality improvement projects. Monroe County has benefitted from state assistance to replace leaking septic systems with central treatment plants. More needs to be done state-wide to address the over 1.6 million homes still using septic systems.
You can influence water quality by voting on November 6th for Governor, the cabinet and House District 120. Read the candidate’s positions and question them at local events. Make sure they share your priority to expedite reduction of nutrient pollution through accountability and adequate funding.