Florida Chamber calls for science-based solutions to water issues

OKEECHOBEE — “Sound water science – not political science – is the way to secure the state’s water future,” said Mark Wilson, president of the Florida Chamber.

“If you think about Florida’s future, more people are going to need more water,” he said.

“That means we need to focus on securing Florida’s water future.”

He said they don’t want Florida to end up with water shortages like California.

“Florida is adding 1,000 people a day,” he said. “We’re going to add six million more residents in Florida by 2030.

“By 2030 with population growth, we’re going to need 20 percent more water than we currently have available to us,” he said.

Last year the Florida chamber launched a series of educational videos about water issues. The first four videos focused on springs, Southwest Florida, the Florida Keys and the Indian River Lagoon.

“We reached out to a very diverse group of scientists, to people who care about protecting the environment,” he said.

On Nov. 8, at a press conference in Tallahassee that was broadcast live online, the Florida Chamber of Commerce unveiled its fifth in a series of water education videos which further demonstrates why following science-based research is important to securing Florida’s water future. The latest educational research video provides proof that septic tank problems are detrimentally impacting Florida’s water systems. The educational video highlights research produced by Florida Atlantic University–Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Research Professor Dr. Brian Lapointe, and sheds light on the algae blooms on the St. Lucie Estuary that followed unusually heavy rainfall in the winter and spring of 2016.

The video addresses the role of Lake Okeechobee and local basin discharges, and the science-based solutions that policy makers are considering to mitigate this problem in the future. Specifically, the educational research video points to local basin discharges and septic tank pollution as detrimentally impacting the quality of water in the St. Lucie Estuary.

“When it comes to securing Florida’s future, there are few issues more important than water,” said Mr. Wilson.

“Science based solutions are the only way to make sure Florida’s water future is sustainable and provides the quality of life Floridians and our visitors deserve.”

“Water is a statewide concern, and unfortunately, sometimes local and state politicians want to do what is popular when what we actually need to do is what the science tells us,” said Mr. Wilson.

“I’ve spent decades researching what is ailing Florida’s waterways,” said Dr. Brian Lapointe, Ph.D., of the Harbor Branch Oceanic Institute and Florida Atlantic University.”With my research taking me from the Florida Keys, all the way up the east and west coasts of the Florida peninsula.

“In the research I have conducted on behalf of Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce, the science points directly to human pollution as the number one cause of what’s imperiling our state’s local water sources,” said Dr. Lapointe, “A leading cause of this pollution are aging septic tanks, which are leaking into the Indian River Lagoon and St. Lucie Estuary.

“The evidence is undeniable,” Dr. Lapointe continued. “In monitoring these waterways, we’ve documented alarming amounts of fecal coloform bacteria and traces of chemicals found exclusively in humans such as sucralose and acetaminophen.

“The communities of the Treasure Coast and the Space Coast are some of the most challenged communities in terms of runoff and local pollution in developed coastal areas,” said Dr. Lapointe.

He said pollution from the septic tanks played a part in the massive algae bloom in 2016.

“Our research that we did, funded by Martin County in 2015, we actually looked at two subdivisions – old Palm City and Golden Gate Estates – where we actually used groundwater monitoring wells and surface water sampling, looking at these contaminated septic blooms coming into the estuaries. We used stable nitrogen isotopes and traced actually that nitrogen into algae blooms in the estuaries. What happened, the algae bloom seeded by water from Lake Okeechobee but once it got into the estuary, it was fed by the local basin runoff. Much of that is coming from septic tanks.”

He said peer-reviewed Harbor Branch research as well as other detailed studies show septic tank pollution is a problem near waterways.

“It is clear in the literature of other detailed studies, septic tanks only remove a small part of the Nitrogen – 10 to 30 percent. Sewage treatment plants, like the new one in the Cudjoe regional system in the Florida Keys, remove 90 percent,” Dr. Lapointe said.

“That’s just nitrogen. Let’s talk about fecal coloform and other contaminants. Septic tanks do nothing for fecal colorform, viruses and pathogens,” he continued. “That’s why we’re seeing these problems in places like the North Fork, the South Fork, the St. Lucie Estuaries, particularly when the salinity comes down.”

He said the City of Port St. Lucie has a chronic problem with high fecal coloform bacteria in the water.

“This isn’t coming from the farms,” he said. “The estuary is inherit for coloform bacteria. Lake Okeechobee isn’t.”

He said that while with the 2016 Treasure Coast algae bloom, it is believed the seed algae came from the lake, “when we talk about the entirety of the Indian River Lagoon, most of that water coming from the lake, over 90 percent, goes out the St. Lucie estuary. It does not go up.

“Those blooms, the brown tide and the macroalgae blooms that have blanketed the bottom of the Indian River Lagoon for decades, those are not coming from Lake Okeechobee.”

The lake has nothing to do with that, he said. “They are totally different.”

“The Indian River Lagoon is the most bio-diverse estuary in our country and is one of our most treasured natural resources. It has been ravaged by harmful algae blooms, run-off and water pollution. Legacy Florida 2.0 will provide a dedicated and reliable funding source to address this problem. Septic to sewer conversion is a key component and will help preserve the IRL’s beauty for future generations,” said State Representative Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart), who has introduced House Bill 339, which calls funding for septic to sewer conversions.

“The Indian River Lagoon is one of the most valued economic and environmental assets in Florida. It provides over $7 billion dollars in revenue and inhabits approximately 4,000 different species. I am proud to work alongside Representative Harrell in passing this good bill to help save our lagoon,” said State Senator Debbie Mayfield (R-Melbourne).

Mr. Wilson said the Florida Chamber supports the many projects that will be needed to solve the state’s water issues. He said they feel the most time critical areas to start are septic to sewer conversions and solving the problems north of the lake.

Dr. Lapointe said a $90,000 grant from the Florida Chamber funds the videos and educational outreach programs. That money does not pay for the research conducted by Harbor Branch, he added.

Mr. Wilson said thousands of companies across Florida help the chamber with funds for education and improving the environment.

“People who don’t want to focus on water science are making Florida a less hospitable place to be,” he said.

“For us, this is a Florida challenge,” he said.

In the video released Nov. 8, includes comments from a variety of water experts.

“The reason we know that septic systems are an issue for the St. Lucie Estuary is because we’ve monitored tracers. We’ve looked for sucralose, this artificial sweetener, and we measured it and we know there’s a human source. And we’ve done the North Fork and the South Fork of the St. Lucie Estuary and we’ve seen sucralose throughout there, so we know that human waste water, septic tanks being very probable, is a source for all of these excess pollutants,” stated Drew Bartlett, Deputy Secretary of Water for Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

“Septic tanks were not designed to remove nitrates,” said Jim Stevenson, former chief naturalist for Florida State Parks, former senior biologist, DEP. “They were designed to protect drinking water from harmful bacteria. Almost no nitrates are taken out. They come right into the drain field and out into the aquifer. We have dye trace studies to prove that is what has happened.”

“If you look at the watershed, on a normal 5-year period of record that includes wet years and dry years, you probably get about 80 percent of the nitrogen and the phosphorus that flow into the water body into the estuaries come from the local basin, the land between the lake and the estuaries. While the lake contributes algae that comes out of the lake, you don’t see those really high, dense matts of algae until it reaches portions of the estuaries,” said Ernie Barnett, executive director, Florida Land Council.

The videos are available online at www.flchamber.com/water or follow the link on the Okeechobee News page on Facebook.

Responding to the press conference, Ted Astolfi of the Economic Council of Martin County stated, “Dr. Lapointe’s research is not surprising and it’s not new. Removing harmful septic tanks is one of the key steps to cleaning our local waterways which contribute more than $650 million a year to our local economy. The business community and residents of Martin County know there’s no single solution and we must follow the science and fund solutions that will make a difference.”


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