Algae task force prioritizes regional storage projects

More regional water storage, projects to address legacy nutrients and stricter rules about septic tanks were all identified as priorities by the scientists on the Florida Blue Green Algae Task Force. Following a series of meetings to discuss water quality issues in Florida, the Blue-Green Algae Task Force drafted a series of recommendations for the state. These recommendations, released Oct. 11, include:

• Increased regional water storage: “With regard specifically to the Lake Okeechobee, Caloosahatchee Estuary and St. Lucie River and Estuary BMAP areas, the task force acknowledges regional storage and treatment infrastructure is urgently needed to manage flows to reduce damaging freshwater discharges to the northern estuaries, and also to achieve Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) as well as established Numeric Nutrient Criteria (NNC). Accordingly, the task force recommends that siting, design and funding of this infrastructure be a priority.”

• Projects to remove legacy nutrients: “Legacy nutrients … are a concern in the South Florida landscape, and the task force recommends that their contribution to loading figure prominently in the Lake Okeechobee, Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie River and Estuary Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs). The task force further recommends that projects with the demonstrated potential to expedite legacy nutrient removal merit special attention and be designated as priority projects.

• More funding for Agriculture Best Management Practices (BMPs): “The task force recommends funding and action to increase BMP enrollment in all BMAP areas to ensure that the maximum environmental benefit is achieved. However, enrollment in and of itself does not ensure compliance. It is critical that all agricultural producers enrolled in BMP programs maintain accurate records, as articulated in the various BMP manuals, to demonstrate that they are implementing BMPs and that those records be verified and made available to the appropriate authorities for analysis and review.”

• Septic tanks: The task force recommends the development and implementation of a septic system inspection and monitoring program with the goal of identifying improperly functioning and/or failing systems so that corrective action can be taken to reduce nutrient pollution, negative environmental impacts and preserve human health … Current regulations prohibit permitting of new septic systems on lots of 1 acre or less in a priority focus area within an Outstanding Florida Spring watershed unless the system includes enhanced treatment. The task force recommends broader adoption of this rule to protect other vulnerable areas across the state. The task force further recommends legislation and funding to accelerate cost-effective septic-to-sewer programs with the aim of reducing nutrient pollution that leads to harmful algal blooms.”

• Sewage spills: “The task force recommends that the Department of Environmental Protection pursue a more proactive approach to address infiltration and inflow issues to reduce the risk of sanitary sewer overflows and associated water quality degradation.”

• Stormwater: “The task force recommends the development and implementation of a stormwater system inspection and monitoring program with the goal of identifying improperly functioning and/or failing systems so that corrective action can be taken to reduce nutrient pollution and other negative environmental impacts. The task force recommends also that stormwater design criteria be revised and updated to incorporate recent advances in stormwater treatment technologies and other practices that have demonstrated environmental benefits, specifically nutrient reduction.

• Innovative technologies: “The task force recommends an investment in a diverse portfolio of technologies, focusing on those that are demonstrably cost-efficient, environmentally safe and scalable. Technologies that are focused on cleanup and mitigation of blue-green algae blooms, though important, are event driven and should not consistently dominate expenditures. Technologies with a prevention focus are desirable and will require more strategic and longer-term investments.”

• Public health: “Defensible health advisories should be established by the Florida Department of Health and defensible water quality criteria should be established by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.”

• Water monitoring: “The task force recognizes that renewed investment in a state-wide comprehensive water quality monitoring strategy will be a key part of its water quality protection efforts moving forward.” The entire text of the task force recommendations is online at loridadep.gov/Blue-GreenAlgaeTaskForce.

Task force members include: Dr. Evelyn Gaiser, Florida International University; Dr. Wendy Graham, University of Florida; Dr. Michael Parsons, Florida Gulf Coast University; Dr. Valerie Paul, Smithsonian Marine Station; and Dr. James Sullivan, Florida Atlantic University Harbor Branch. State Science Officer Dr. Thomas Frazer was the moderator.

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

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