Blue-Green Algae Task Force holds first meeting

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bluegreenalgaetask force algae In: Blue-Green Algae Task Force holds first meeting | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River

Millions and millions for monitoring and analysis–the size of the budget or the amount of money does not impress us.  What impresses us is going for the source and stopping the nitrates.  Michael Parsons is headed in the right direction:

“If we’re looking at nutrient reduction strategies, and agriculture is responsible for 78 percent of phosphorous production, that seems like the best place to start,” said Michael Parsons, a marine science professor at Florida Gulf Coast University.

We have some optimism here and will follow this committee to see where they go and who will listen to them.

Read the original article here in the Tallahassee Democrat.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-

Blue-Green Algae Task Force holds first meeting, gets rundown on existing water quality regs

Jeffrey Schweers, Tallahassee Democrat Published 5:11 p.m. ET June 12, 2019

Gov. DeSantis addresses the media at the Capitol in Tallahassee Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, talking climate change, education, algae and more. Ana Ceballos, Naples Daily News

The first meeting of the state’s Blue-green Algae Task Force was dominated by an overview of the role state and federal agencies play in regulating water quality and responding to algal blooms and whether those regulations are effective.

Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein kicked off the day-long meeting with a reminder of the governor’s priority to improve water quality and an admonition to not settle for the status quo.

The task force members were chosen because of the professional commitment of the people on the panel to water quality, but also their personal commitment.

“These are the best academic minds that we have,” Valenstein told reporters Wednesday during a break in the day-long meeting at DEP headquarters in Tallahassee.

More: With toxic blue-green algae bloom, don’t eat Lake Okeechobee fish, Audubon biologist says

Valenstein expected the task force to question rules, regulations, and consider everything from process improvements to statutory changes.

“Let’s get used to asking those questions,” he said.

This issue is personal for the governor, too, Valenstein said. “Since his first day in office he made the environment a priority.”

Within 48 hours of taking office, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a sweeping executive order that led to the creation of the task force, as well as the creation of a chief science officer and a chief resilience officer.

His action was cheered by environmentalists who watched for years as the previous administration and legislatures failed to pass any substantial fixes to the perennial problem caused by Lake Okeechobee’s nutrient-rich discharges, farm and lawn runoff, and a growing population dumping waste into the waterways.

DeSantis also committed to spending $2.5 billion over the next four years on protecting the environment and improving water quality, more than the previous administration did over the past four years.

He asked for $625 million for water quality and protection, and the Legislature approved $687 million, including $50 million to jump start water storage and treatment projects north of Lake Okeechobee.

More: Republican lawmaker wants money and science for Florida’s water woes

The budget, which is expected to land on the governor’s desk Friday, includes $10.8 million for water monitoring, creating a water quality information portal and establishing the task force. Included in that amount is $4 million for the DEP to expand water analytics for nutrient over-enrichment analysis and the information portal.

“That is one of the highest budgets we’ve ever had as Department of Environmental Protection to take on these tasks,” Valenstein said.

During the business development mission to Israel led by DeSantis in the last week of May, Valenstein got to see how scientists in Israel deal with water issues.

“We learned that this is not just a Florida issue. It’s national and international issue,” he said. “The global nature of this problem was really impressed upon us.”

The charge to the task force is to focus on “expediting progress toward reducing the adverse impacts of blue-green algae blooms over the next five years,” said Tom Frazer, director of the University of Florida School of Natural Resources and Environment whom DeSantis appointed as the state’s chief science officer.

That includes supporting key funding and restoration projects to reduce nutrients in Lake Okeechobee and its downstream estuaries. It also should identify projects based on scientific data and based on Basin Management Action Plans.

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More: Lower Lake Okeechobee discharges could be bad for Caloosahatchee if rains don’t arrive soon

Frazer acknowledged that most of the task force’s focus would be on Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee River and St. Lucie River basins. “But we are interested in wherever blue-green algae is a problem,” he said.

The task force sat through two hours of PowerPoint presentations giving an overview of what the state already does to monitor and regulate blue-green algae and red tide.

Tom Frick, director of assessment and restoration for DEP said the state has had a multi-agency response in place for over a decade that involves the Department of Health, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the state’s water management agencies and county governments.

Frick also explained how the state deals with water bodies when they exceed the acceptable levels of nutrients through the creation of Basin Management Action Plans that outline how those loads will be reduced.

One-third of the state’s population currently falls within such a plan, all of which are scheduled to be updated by the start of 2020, he said.

The afternoon session was spent fielding task force member questions about septic tanks, sewer conversions, biosolid regulations, groundwater monitoring, the role of agriculture in nutrient discharge, and other issues related to water quality.

“If we’re looking at nutrient reduction strategies, and agriculture is responsible for 78 percent of phosphorous production, that seems like the best place to start,” said Michael Parsons, a marine science professor at Florida Gulf Coast University.

More: Blue-green algae bloom found on Lake Okeechobee in Martin County; DEP toxin report pending

Several bills that came before the Legislature this spring dealing with biosolids and converting septic to sewer systems didn’t make it.

Haley Burger, administrator for the Florida Conservation Coalition, said that the task force should consider acquiring land as the most effective way to preserve the environment.

“The best way to protect our waterways from nutrient run off and algae bloom is to protect the land around them,” Burger said during the brief public comment period at the end of the meeting, where about six people spoke.

Task Force members also wanted to see where the state DEP had succeeded and showed the biggest bang for the buck. And they asked if they were getting the best data possible.

One member asked for a case study of one of the Basin Management Action plans discussed earlier as a way to measure their effectiveness.

“There are two questions really,” said Wendy Graham, director of the Water Institute at the University of Florida. “Are the projects working as you expected them to, and are they having the impact on the receiving body you expected them to?”

Given the limited time for the task force to spend on projects that could benefit the state, Graham said, “we should spend time on the projects that take us the greatest way to solutions.”

More: Blue-green algae still being found in Caloosahatchee River, Lake Okeechobee

Julie Wraithmell, executive director of Audubon Florida, said the problems are well understood.

“The issue is prioritizing then mobilizing to implement what we know needs to be done,” Wraithmell said.

Contact Schweers at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @jeffschweers.


1 Comment

  1. The Dept of Ag & consumer services needs to implement a data base that farmers and nursery growers could input info on our fertilizer, pesticide and herbicide usage. Date and location by county and zip code. I spoke with four different people from the Dept of Ag today, each thought it was an interesting idea, just wrong dept. If someone thinks this idea is worthwhile, please run with it. Good luck!

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