Algae testing takes time, says FDEP

LAKE OKEECHOBEE — Algae is part of the natural ecosystem in lakes, rivers and streams worldwide. Algae is ever-present in Lake Okeechobee, even when it is not visible in a bloom; boaters and fishermen are used to seeing algae in the water column or blown about by the winds.

Since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began releasing water to the east through Port Mayaca lock and to the west through the Moore Haven lock, coastal officials have voiced concerns about the algae that may be in the lake water. In 2016, algae from the lake was blamed for seeding the massive harmful algal blooms that plagued the Treasure Coast.

So far this year, a small patch of windblown algae was been found near the Port Mayaca Lock on Lake Okeechobee on June 5. Toxin levels were very low at 0.6 parts per billion.

The World Health Organization considers levels below 10 ppb to be safe.

Streaks of algae were visible near the Port Mayaca Lock on Lake Okeechobee on June 5, 2018. Florida Department of Environmental Protection tests found the algae to have extremely low levels of toxins at less than 1 ppb. The World Health Organization considers levels below 10 ppb to be safe. Photo by R. Marion.

At the June 7 Water Resources Analysis Coalition meeting, Chad Kennedy of the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation explained that FDEP takes samples whenever algal blooms are reported, but it takes four days for the FDEP staff to analyze algae samples.

“This isn’t something that you can do, run through a machine and get an instant number,” he said.

“This is something folks have to do analysis on and quality assurance and quality control to make sure the information is accurate,” he explained.

“If algae is present, it is not necessarily synonymous with toxins present,” he said.

Mr. Kennedy said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has personnel monitoring the locks and levy every day. In addition, water management personnel are out on the lake collecting samples. It’s a big lake, he said. FDEP also seeks the public’s help to monitor algal blooms.

“If you see an algae bloom, please call 855-305-3903. Please leave a message and we will call you back and get details about the bloom,” he said. He added that algal blooms can also be reported on the FDEP website.

Mr. Kennedy said FDEP is looking for ways not only to monitor algal blooms but to treat harmful algal blooms when they occur.

He said FDEP put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) in March.

FDEP has about 60 people – scientists and individuals – “who said they had a solution to this problem,” he said.

“Unfortunately we only had four responses to that RFP when it really came right down to brass tacks,” he continued.

“We have to protect the water. We are not going to let people disperse chemicals or anything like that which is going to have an adverse effect on the whole resource just to get rid of the algae.

“We had two responses that were deemed complete,” he said. “Unfortunately they did not respond to all the aspects of the RFP in a manner that the department felt comfortable moving forward with.”

Mr. Kennedy said FDEP is working on a new RFP. “We are actively seeking people who can clean up and actively respond to these blooms if we do have a toxic bloom,” he said.

“If you know someone that has a technology that is scalable and can be deployed on an ad-hoc, as needed, response, we are looking for that.

We are looking for ways to respond and clean up, not just monitor algal blooms,” he said.

This May 25, 2018 photo from The Hull Truth boating website shows algae near Bessy Creek in Palm Bay. FDEP advises that those who see algae should call the FDEP hotline or go online to the FDEP website to report it. Posting photos on social media are not enough, and FDEP needs information about when and where algae is sighted.

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