Source: The Daytona Beach News-Journal
It’s the time of year in Florida when rising temperatures, humidity and afternoon rain often are associated with the growth of algal blooms. This in turn heightens awareness of water quality issues impacting habitats and wildlife in the St. Johns River Water Management District and across the state.
Algae are part of the natural environment and found in most habitats, just as nitrogen and phosphorus are essential plant nutrients. But too many of these nutrients can cause significant imbalances in a water body’s ecology — algal blooms are one symptom. Blooms can be dramatic, prolonged and, in some cases, produce toxins. The latter are what we call harmful algal blooms.
District scientists routinely collect water and algae samples in coordination with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and provide test results to other agencies, including the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Florida Department of Health, responsible for sharing information with county health units. These agencies have coordinated for many years to respond to potentially harmful algal blooms.
The district’s governing board recently strengthened our commitment to vital collaborative partnerships by updating our agreement with BlueGreen U.S. Water Technologies for an innovative project to fight toxic algae blooms. The updated agreement allows DEP and our fellow water management districts to respond fast when critical harmful algal bloom conditions are present.
A little background on how this started: Following Gov. Ron DeSantis’ 2019 Executive Order 19-12 (Achieving More Now for Florida’s Environment), the district entered into an agreement with BlueGreen U.S. Water Technologies in early 2020 to evaluate the potential of its innovative product to prevent or control algal bloom formation in Lake Minneola, Lake County.
Using a combination of field data and water samples to guide application of the hydrogen peroxide-based product, the pilot project identified bloom-prone areas in Lake Minneola and then deployed the new technology in strategic locations to reduce current or forming blooms of cyanobacteria, otherwise known as blue-green algae.
During the pilot study, concluded in May 2021, Lake Minneola received 14 treatments. The contractor is now preparing a final report that will be shared at a public meeting slated for later this summer.
Gov. DeSantis also has created two statewide task forces to address algal blooms. Our own Dr. Charles Jacoby, supervising environmental scientist in the district’s Bureau of Water Resources, was named to the state’s Red Tide Task Force.
Jacoby, who earned a doctorate in biological sciences at Stanford University, has more than 40 years of experience in designing, conducting and interpreting research that guides management of natural resources, and he has led or co-led projects worth more than $30 million. We are proud to have him share his scientific expertise as a member of this task force, whose goal is to focus on the causes of red tide, seek solutions, identify research needs and evaluate other actions to address red tide and other saltwater-based algal blooms.
While the task force and the Lake Minneola project focus on fighting algal blooms already in waterways, we are also focused on reducing nitrogen and phosphorus before these nutrients can enter water bodies in excess and fuel algal blooms.
It’s often said that many hands make light the work, and that’s also true here as we work with the public and many partners to address water quality challenges. For example, the district provides cooperative funding to local governments for projects redirecting wastewater discharges from water bodies, improving treatment for stormwater collection and retention systems, improving sanitary sewer collection and treatment, converting septic systems to sanitary sewer systems and more.
We also provide cost-share resources to agricultural producers to implement projects beyond typical best management practices that reduce water and nutrient use, which in turn reduces nutrient loading to water bodies.
Our governing board has approved contributions of $188.5 million to help local communities with water projects through the fiscal year 2014 through 2022 districtwide and cost-share funding programs, with $80.7 million specifically for water quality improvement projects. Combined with local, DEP and state funding, that’s a total $736.7 million investment for water quality improvement projects.
Combined, 369 projects will have an estimated benefit of reducing total nitrogen by 1.8 million pounds per year and reducing total phosphorus by 331,000 pounds per year.
Here are some simple suggestions on how individuals can join this fight:
You can find other helpful information on algal blooms and District programs on our website at www.sjrwmd.com/education/algae.
Ann Shortelle is the executive director of the St. Johns River Water Management District.