provided to Santiva Chronicle
Chronic exposure to toxins from blue-green algae and red tide are related to a higher incidence of Alzheimer’s Disease, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), and Parkinson’s Disease, according to recent medical research. Beyond these health effects, red tide and blue-green algae blooms damage our tourism economy, lower our property values, and reduce our quality of life.
These issues and ways of addressing them were discussed during the November luncheon meeting of the Sanibel League of Women Voters. Presentations by John Cassani, Calusa Waterkeeper, and Howard L. Simon, Ph.D., Clean Okeechobee Waters Foundation, Inc., were titled Water Currents 2.0: Update and Review of Progress, Actions, Future Impacting Water Quality.
This topic is urgent and timely, as the 2020 Florida Legislative Session beginning January 14 will consider recommendations from the Blue Green Algae Task Force and the Red Tide Task Force established by Gov. Ron DeSantis. All Floridians who are concerned about our health, housing values, and the health of our economy have a stake in understanding these issues and in being sure that our legislators protect us by supporting measures to reduce the impact of these algal blooms.
Unfortunately, there are multiple causes of red tide and blue-green algal blooms, so there are no silver bullets to eliminate the dangerous toxins and the ecological and economic damage they produce. Nevertheless, basic factors are well understood: excess nutrients and an imbalance in the ratio of nitrogen and phosphorous. If there are excess nutrients and the balance of these chemicals is disrupted, algal blooms result, causing public health, environmental, and economic disasters.
Major factors contributing to these algal blooms include:
1. Florida has statutes outlining best practices for agribusiness, but there is a presumption of compliance with no enforcement. Results include use of human biosolids—human waste—along with other fertilizers for agricultural crops. Much of the runoff from these fertilizers ends up in Lake Okeechobee, and from there flows down the Caloosahatchee and other rivers into the Gulf and the Atlantic, providing fertile conditions for algal blooms. Biosolids for fertilizer typically come from densely populated Southeast Florida and are sold to agribusiness in Northern Florida. While contributing less than agribusiness, golf courses are another major source of fertilizer runoff.
2. Florida has about 2.6 million septic tanks—about 10% of all septic tanks in the U.S.—and they leach nitrogen into the groundwater. The state doesn’t require inspections of septic tanks, and as a result, we have many small leaks as well as major leaks. To minimize this, Florida should require regular septic system inspections, strongly encourage septic-to-sewer system conversion, and ban any further development based on septic systems. The state budget should include grants to local governments to help make these conversions.
3. Sea level rise is another threat, as this raises the water table and increases the likelihood of fertilizer leaking into the groundwater.
The economy and environment of Southwest Florida have experienced devastating impacts that have escalated over the past couple of years. Unless actions are taken by our state legislators to mitigate the many causes of algal blooms, we will have a ticking time bomb for a public disaster over the next 30 years or so. To prevent this, Florida must implement in full—not water down—the recommendations of these high level task forces.
Florida has passed legislation that over time would go far toward improving our water quality. Unfortunately, during the administration of former Gov. Rick Scott, and under the leadership of the past state legislators, implementation and enforcement of these statutes was prevented through lack of funding.
It is urgent for Florida citizens to let our political leaders know our concerns about addressing destructive algal blooms by passing a state budget that funds in full the measures recommended by the Blue Green Algal Task Force and the Red Tide Task Force.
The Sanibel League of Women Voters sponsors presentations on key issues the second Thursday of each month during the winter season. Upcoming programs will focus on challenges to Constitutional protections and on the environment. A special program will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment granting women’s suffrage, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the League of Women Voters, and the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Sanibel League of Women Voters. For further information on programs or to join the Sanibel League, go to lwvsanibel.org.