Widespread algae on St. Johns as growing season heats up

st john algae In: Widespread algae on St. Johns as growing season heats up | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River*

Not yet in the heat of summer and we have serious problems already in one of Florida’s major rivers.  The St Johns River may have had some special abuse from nearby biosolids/sewer sludge spread near it, or this may be from your normal ag-induced fertilizers accompanied by urban runoff, septic tanks and excessive pumping.

Whatever the reason here, one can immediately see that our water problems continue, and are not just down in South Florida.  Gov. DeSantis has taken some symbolic steps, but he needs to take some leaps and bounds.

Very little has changed so of course we expect  a continuation of Rick Scott’s legacy of reduced flows, increased weeds, toxic waters and dead fish.  And  failed businesses.

Drastic reductions in agricultural fertilizers must be started and the sooner the better.  DeSantis should appoint a task force to make plans to work out programs to assist farmers to implement these reductions with adequate compensation for resulting decreased crop yield.

How much reduction?  If the BMAPs are to work, we need  75 to 80% reduction.  And to achieve that, we need carefully thought-out plans and new attitudes.  And some time, so we must start now.

Mind sets must change to shift over to the realization that the old days will not return if we want usable water.

Read this article in the Ocala Star Banner.

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


Widespread algae on St. Johns as growing season heats up

By Steve Patterson

Posted Apr 25, 2019 at 9:29 AM Updated Apr 25, 2019 at 11:02 AM

Lisa Rinaman

“It’s extremely early to see an algae bloom of this size. It could be a sign of bad things to come,” said St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman.

Algae covering the St. Johns River in Putnam County is drawing the attention of state scientists and environmental activists while competing forces try to influence state lawmakers’ choices about changing water-quality protections.

“The St. Johns River here is a quarter-mile wide, and it’s green all the way across,” said Sam Carr, a San Mateo resident who said the bloom is one of the most significant he’s seen in more than 50 years living near the river.

He said he followed the shoreline in an area south of Palatka for more than a mile and saw algae consistently covering the waterway and in some spots saw multi-colored “islands” of scum on the surface.

“Today is the first day I’ve been able to smell it,” Carr said Tuesday, describing an acrid odor and a headache he developed after breathing it. “It has scared people off the river. There are very few people out here these days.”

People like Carr have reported algae blooms since mid-April between the middle of Lake George and Palatka, said Teresa Monson, a spokeswoman for the St. Johns River Water Management District.

Agency employees who collected water samples two weeks ago returned last week to gather 11 more samples and would be back testing again on Wednesday, said Monson said, who noted her agency helps finance clean-water projects that have helped curb algae.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection will have researchers checking the water next week, she said.

Tests so far have found very low levels of toxins that at high concentrations can cause neurological harm. The tests haven’t found evidence of a common toxin for blue-green algae, microcystin, which has prompted health concerns in past years.

The thick blooms reflect the arrival of algae’s growing season in Northeast Florida, when sunlight and warming temperatures fuel growth, especially in waters loaded with the nitrogen and phosphorus that are its food.

River advocates urging steps to cut levels of those nutrients in the St. Johns said algae is a troubling result of the river’s environmental problems.

“It’s extremely early to see an algae bloom of this size. It could be a sign of bad things to come,” said St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman. “People need to take this very seriously.”

The algae spike is happening as activists like Rinaman press members of Florida’s Legislature to change state laws to limit sources of nutrients, particularly phosphorus found in sewer sludge blamed for algae problems last year at the source of the St. Johns.

But changes this month in legislation meant to block sludge from entering the water table of farm fields around waterways have alarmed activists who say places like the St. Johns could be left vulnerable for continued pollution.

The St. Johns’ normally pristine headwaters in Indian River County, hundreds of miles from Jacksonville, have had increasing phosphorus levels since 2012, a change that some scientists have linked to increased dumping of partly-treated sewer sludge (formally called biosolids) on farm and ranchland close to the river.

A bill that would have banned sludge disposal in spots where it could enter the ground’s water table advanced early in the Legislature’s session. But that was the folded into a larger bill and rewritten in a way that Rinaman argued could allow sludge dumping on land where the water table would be affected as long as the dumping happened in dry seasons when the water table was lower.

Rinaman said she’s been working with state Rep. Bobby Payne, R-Palatka, to try to restore protections that were in the original bill. She said Payne recently set up a conference call with Rinaman and a lobbyist for the utility industry who argued protections like that were already in place.

Rinaman said she’s trying to plead the case for stronger sludge protections with House leadership as the legislative session moves toward concluding for the year and algae grows in the St. Johns.

*Photo Sam Carr via St. Augustine Record.

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