District, partners are addressing Florida’s algal blooms, water quality issues

June 24, 2021

A water quality monitoring site in the Indian River Lagoon

A water quality monitoring site in the Indian River Lagoon.

It’s the time of year in Florida when rising temperatures, humidity and afternoon rain often are associated with the growth of algal blooms that highlight water quality issues impacting habitats and wildlife in our District and across the state. While algae are part of the natural environment, some blooms can be dramatic, prolonged, and in some cases can produce toxins. These are considered harmful algal blooms (HAB). As part of our ongoing work, St. Johns River Water Management District scientists regularly collect water and algae samples in coordination with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and provide test results to other agencies, including the Florida Department of Health (which is responsible for sharing the information with county health units) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Our agencies have long operated under a coordinated plan to respond to potentially harmful algal blooms and the District’s Governing Board recently strengthened our commitment to this collaborative work by updating an agreement with BlueGreen U.S. Water Technologies (BGWT) for an innovative project to fight harmful algal blooms. The amendment will allow DEP and the other water management districts to take rapid action by quickly accessing the contract when critical harmful algal bloom conditions are present.

Following Gov. Ron DeSantis’ 2019 Executive Order (EO) 19-12 (Achieving More Now for Florida’s Environment), the District entered into an agreement with BGWT in early 2020 to evaluate the potential of its Lake Guard® Oxy Technology, a proprietary innovative product that selectively targets cyanobacteria, in preventing and/or controlling algal bloom formation in Lake Minneola.

Between November 2020 and May 2021, using a combination of collected field data and water samples to guide application of the hydrogen peroxide-based product, the BGWT pilot project identified bloom-prone areas in Lake Minneola and then deployed its technology in strategic locations to reduce current or forming cyanobacterial blooms. During the pilot study, Lake Minneola received 14 treatments. A final report is now being prepared and will be shared at a public meeting to be scheduled later this summer.

Governor DeSantis has also created two statewide task forces to address algal blooms, naming Dr. Charles Jacoby, the Supervising Environmental Scientist for the Estuaries Section in the District’s Bureau of Water Resources, to the Red Tide Task Force. Dr. Jacoby, who earned a doctorate degree in biological sciences at Stanford University, has more than 40 years of experience in designing, conducting and interpreting research that guides management of natural resources, and he has led or co-led projects worth more than $30 million.  We are proud to have Dr. Jacoby share his scientific expertise as a member of this task force.

While the task force and the BGWT innovative project are focused on fighting algal blooms already in waterways, we are also focused on reducing nutrient sources before they can enter water bodies, working with the public and many partners to decrease the amount of excessive nutrients that help fuel algal blooms. For example, we provide cooperative funding to local governments on projects redirecting wastewater discharges from water bodies, improving treatment for stormwater collection and retention systems, improving sanitary sewer collection and treatment, converting septic systems to sanitary sewer systems and other innovative, cost-effective options. We likewise provide cost-share resources to agricultural producers to implement projects beyond typical best management practices that reduce water and nutrient use and thus, loading to water bodies.

Our Governing Board has approved contributions of $188.5 million to help local communities with water projects through the fiscal year 2014 through 2022 Districtwide and REDI cost-share funding programs, with $80.7 million specifically for water quality improvement projects. Combined with local, DEP and state funding, that’s a total $736.7 million investment for water quality improvement projects. Combined, 369 projects will have an estimated benefit of reducing total nitrogen by 1.8 million pounds per year and reducing total phosphorus by 331,000 pounds per year.

Here are some simple suggestions on how individuals can join this fight:

  • Report algal blooms to DEP through its algal bloom dashboard at https://floridadep.gov/AlgalBloom or by calling DEP’s hotline at 855-305-3903.
  • Use fertilizers wisely and sparingly, according to the manufacturer’s directions and local ordinances, and only when your lawn shows need.
  • Properly maintain septic and stormwater systems. Connect to central sewer whenever possible.

You can find other helpful information on algal blooms and District programs on our website at www.sjrwmd.com/education/algae.

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