‘Protect Florida’ website to be updated, expanded

FORT MYERS — Gov. Ron DeSantis and first lady Casey DeSantis went to Fort Myers and Stuart on Nov. 5 to announce the launch of ProtectingFloridaTogether.gov, which the governor calls “the state’s first-ever comprehensive water quality dashboard.” They were joined by Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Noah Valenstein, State Surgeon General Dr. Scott A. Rivkees, Chief Science Officer Dr. Thomas Frazer, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Executive Director Eric Sutton and Congressman Brian Mast.

An online visit to ProtectingFloridaTogether.gov on the day it launched indicated the “comprehensive” website did not show all of the water sampling sites on Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee River or the St. Lucie waterway.

In his press conference, the governor said “it is vitally important that we keep Floridians informed of our current initiatives and the quality of our water at the state level,” but the day it launched some of the water quality data on the website was six months old.

In an Nov. 8 interview, Mr. Valenstein said the delay in putting current data on the website was due to lack of communication between government agencies. He said they are improving the website to include more current and more expansive data.

“Our goal is to build the website out,” he explained. Eventually it will include updated data from all of the water management districts, the municipalities and universities, he explained. “The most important thing we can get out of this website is a statewide conversation on water quality,” Mr. Valenstein said.

For Lake Okeechobee, the St. Lucie River and Caloosahatchee River, the website has information on nitrogen, phosphorus and chlorophyll. Why doesn’t it currently include information on toxins? Mr. Valenstein explained that if toxins are detected, the website will indicate this. He said there will be dots on the water sample icon if toxins are present. A red dot on the icon for the sample site indicates toxin levels are high.

None of the icons for Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee River or the St. Lucie River show toxins. In the Caloosahatchee Estuary, some of the icons have dots, which indicate caution levels or high toxin levels due to red tide.

• Some of the data on the map for Lake Okeechobee when the website launched on Nov. 6 was from April 2. As of Nov. 8, the website had been updated with data from Aug. 26. The map shows nine sampling locations. According to the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), as of August there were 19 sampling sites on Lake Okeechobee. In August, SFWMD approved an increase to 32 sites, which are monitored biweekly during bloom season (May to October), with nine sites sampled year round.

• The data for the St. Lucie shows six sample locations. As of Nov. 6, the data from three sites was from July 22, two from June 5 and one from June 6. As of Nov. 8, data from three sites was one from July 22, one site had data from Aug. 1, one from Aug. 5 and one from Aug. 23. According to SFWMD, as of August, the St. Lucie watershed had 31 sampling sites. The SFWMD board in August approved increasing the sampling to 46 sites, tested biweekly.

• Eight sampling sites are shown from the Caloosahatchee River. Data for four sampling locations on Caloosahatchee is from Nov. 4; three sample sites shows Aug. 21 data; and, one shows data from July 23. All eight sampling locations are between Olga and the coast. At the August SFWMD meeting, the governing board approved adding 15 monitoring sites in the upper Caloosahatchee watershed with biweekly testing.

• Eighteen logos show sampling sites in the Caloosahatchee Estuaries, with data from Nov. 2-6. As of Nov. 8, eight of the samples from the estuary had red dots, indicating “high” toxin levels from red tide, and the warning “Karenia brevis” was reported at this site on the date noted at concentrations exceeding 100,000 cells per liter. Possible environmental and health impacts include discolored water, respiratory irritation, fish kills, and shellfish closures.”

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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