Algae Panel Puts Together 'Roadmap' For Lawmakers

A document discussed Monday by the state’s Blue-Green Algae Task Force should be viewed, members said, as a broad roadmap for lawmakers with the 2020 legislative session less than 100 days away.

And task force members, meeting in Gainesville to further edit the document, said they will look in future meetings beyond Lake Okeechobee and nearby waterways that have been plagued by toxic algae.

Member Wendy Graham, director of the Water Institute at the University of Florida, said it is important to reassure people “we haven’t forgotten about ground waters and springs and that sort of thing, coastal systems.”

Member James Sullivan, executive director of Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch, added that the document should be clearer that the focus isn’t exclusively Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.

“It’s not just Lake Okeechobee,” Sullivan said.

Thomas Frazer, Florida’s chief science officer, said the document addresses waters beyond the South Florida ecosystems, but agreed to highlight a statewide focus in a brief introduction.

Overall, Frazer said the document is aimed at providing “high-level, but informative recommendations” for lawmakers, who begin the 60-day legislative session on Jan. 14, and it shouldn’t be viewed as the panel’s final product.

“We fully intended to delve into a broad suite of related topics moving down the road and expect we will have many more recommendations,” Frazer said. “I want to let people rest their mind a little bit that this is not the final product from this body.”

Among the future topics will be water reuse, biosolids, fertilizers in urban landscapes and how herbicides are used.

DeSantis created the task force through a January executive order after outbreaks of toxic algae and red tide across the state last year. The problems particularly drew attention in Southeast and Southwest Florida, as algae plagued water bodies such as the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers and as red tide caused fish kills.

The document declares that blue-green algae blooms are expected to grow because of regional land-use changes that will impact local hydrology and through “increases in temperature and pronounced variability in precipitation patterns.”

After a brief introduction, several steps aimed at reducing toxic algae blooms are proposed, including an investment in technologies focused on the clean-up of blue-green algae blooms; broader regulatory oversight of septic systems; taking steps to reduce sewer overflows in coastal areas from sea-level rise and more-frequent rainfall events; and a renewed investment in a statewide comprehensive water-quality monitoring strategy.