Algae Facts Response
Florida’s Algal Blooms Not Caused by Farms South of Lake Okeechobee
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (July 5, 2016) The algae blooming along Florida’s coastal waterways is concerning to everyone, and it is understandable that many are anxious for answers, but farmers south of Lake Okeechobee are not the cause of the blooms.
Misinformation has been rampant pointing to Palm Beach County farmers, south of Lake Okeechobee, as the cause of the algae. The fact is the waterways experiencing the algal blooms are northeast of our farming region, and the water in that region does not come from our basin.
The majority of the water in the St. Lucie River and Estuary is from Martin County’s local runoff, according to data from the South Florida Water Management District, the State of Florida’s regional water agency. From 2011-2015, the district’s data shows local basin runoff in Martin County contributed 79% of the water entering those waterways. The other inflow source is Lake Okeechobee, which contributed 21% over that time. Even with higher discharges in WY2016, the local basin has accounted for 76% of the water and lake discharges have equaled 24%.
When nutrients are present in the water, algal blooms are more prevalent. This is a major issue in Martin County, as more than 200,000 septic tanks are in use along its waterways and leach nutrients into the water when it rains. Algae consume those nutrients as food and the blooms worsen.
Discharges from Lake Okeechobee have also been associated with the blooms, and some have claimed the lake’s water comes from our farms. We are located south of Lake Okeechobee and, in fact, receive nearly half of the water coming out of the lake. The Kissimmee basin north of Lake Okeechobee accounts for 97% of the water going into the lake.
In times of heavy rainfall, the South Florida Water Management District will pump water into the lake as a health and safety measure for the small lakeside communities from Clewiston to Pahokee. Those events are rare and only account for 3% of the water in the 750-square-mile lake, over the past five years. Incidentally, the South Florida Water Management District has noted there were no Lake Okeechobee discharges in 2014 when algae blooms similarly occurred on the Treasure Coast.
Florida Crystals and members of our agricultural community have long been supporters of plans that will help the Treasure Coast resolve their local nutrient issues so they may restore their waterways. We are steadfast advocates of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) that includes water storage and treatment projects in Martin County’s local basin that will aid the St. Lucie River and Estuary. We also support the implementation of recommendations from scientific studies that have found septic tanks to be the main cause of local pollution in the St. Lucie River and Estuary and the need to convert to centralized sewer systems with proper wastewater treatment to restore the waterways.
Our farming basin, the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA), is proof of the restoration success that can be achieved when local communities work with scientists and state and federal partners to implement these types of restoration plans. For example, as part of the Everglades Forever Act, EAA farmers have implemented on-farm Best Management Practices (BMPs) that have helped our region achieve the state’s water-quality goal – the strictest in the nation – for the past 20 years. We have reduced phosphorus in the water by an annual average of 56% over the past two decades. In addition, more than 100,000 acres of EAA farmland has been taken out of production for restoration projects like the stormwater treatment areas (STAs). We are proud of our record as partners in environmental preservation. Because our basin is highly regulated and monitored by the State of Florida, through the South Florida Water Management District and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the quality of our water is documented and without question.