South Florida HAB outbreak all too predictable

Less than two months ago, Clean Water Warrior (CWW) noted that the Florida Keys, and the fragile coral reef surrounding them, were always at risk from Harmful Algae Blooms (HAB). These blooms are largely caused by hot weather and, just as importantly or perhaps even more so, rain-induced nutrient runoff from agriculture and communities.

Today, as the Army Corp of Engineers drains water from Lake Okeech0bee — the result of unusually heavy rains from the 2016 rainy season (tied, of course, to global warming) – South Florida is in a full-blown HAB crisis.

This quote, taken from CNN’s excellent July 1, 2016 coverage of the HAB crisis, tells the grim tale as well as any:

Jordan Schwartz, owner of the Ohana Surf Shop, said he wanted to cry when he saw the green slime — a toxic algae bloom — covering his swath of Stuart Beach on Florida’s east coast.

“Animals are in distress, some are dying, the smell is horrible,” he told CNN on Friday. “You have to wear a mask in the marina and the river. It’s heartbreaking and there is no end in sight. The economic impact is devastating,” he said. “This town is 100% driven by tourism but the tourism is empty,” he said. “You go to the beach and it’s the height of summer and we have empty beaches, empty restaurants, empty hotels.”

The typical rogues gallery of offenders, which working in concert typically explain why HAB’s appear,

Algae-covered water at Stuart’s Central Marine boat docks

is again at work. Too much rain,creating too much runoff, flowing with too few natural or man-made restrictions into waterways that eventually pour too much phosphorus and nitrogen into slower moving waters, lakes, and, in this case, ocean shoreline.

Bottom line: the best chance of reducing HABs is to control what can be controlled. Rain? No. Man-made construction to re-route water, dam, or chemically alter? Maybe — but at an often exceedingly high price. Reduction of nutrients applied to land? Yes. Creating large land buffers to capture much more of the nutrients before they enter the waterways? Yes.
And it is with the last two solutions that Florida must start. Cooperation, not finger-pointing, is the key.

Been Away? Risks Of Algae Prevail Still ….

Algae Bloom Inland Lake

With apologies, I have been away from Clean Water Warrior blogging as our site begins the work of upgrading to the user-friendly, more robust engine that will support CWW’s full-fledged status as a non-profit 501c3.  That said, time away from our consistent research of secondary sources and terrific links has unfortunately not been accompanied by a slowing down of the algae blooms that represent a major ecological challenge in all 50 states.

In fact, so long as climate changes bring about warmer temperatures, slower moving water is not assisted with aeration technologies and/or the elimination of dated and unnecessary dams, etc., and there remains excessive nutrient runoff into waterways — largely from unregulated or modestly regulated agriculture operations — blooms will continue to pester and in worst cases destroy thriving lakes and streams.

A nice review of the basics of algae bloom infestations is available by the EPA.

Florida Keys? No Immunity From Nutrient Runoff

It is more than a guilty pleasure. I am an addict for watching the terrific Netflix Original Series “Bloodline.” So much so, that I just had to explore how, or if, nutrient runoff is having an impact on the Florida Keys’ beautiful and environmentally fragile area.

What I found is typical and, at least for me in this case, disheartening.

Despite the myriad abusers of the only continental coral reef in the United States, a reef that is third in size only to those that exist off the coasts of Australia and Belize, its number one threat remains nutrient runoff.

This passage from Reef Relief Founders is particularly unsettling:

Florida Keys Coral Reef
Florida Keys Coral Reef (NOAA)
Corals require clean, nutrient-free waters to thrive. A healthy coral reef has from 30-40% live coral coverage.  However, in the Florida Keys, coral coverage is now reduced to an alarming 3%.  Coral spawning has been reduced due to lack of healthy coral colonies and clean water.

The over-abundance of nutrients in the ocean is the single biggest threat to Florida’s coral reefs. Nutrients is a scientific term for organic and inorganic materials that can include phosphates, and/or nitrates, usually from untreated and partially treated sewage, fertilizers and other pollutants.  They promote algal blooms which rob the water of oxygen and compete with corals for habitat. Every year, 700 tons of nutrients are discharged into Keys waters from agricultural run-off from the Everglades. Another 33 tons of land-based sources of pollution are discharged from the landbase in the Keys, primarily from inadequately treated sewage and stormwater.  Harmful algal blooms can result in eutrophication, when oxygen levels become so low that fish and other marinelife cannot survive.

With a nutrient discharge of 700 tons, Everglades agricultural runoff dwarfs the relatively meager 33 tons coming from land-based communities in the Keys.
As ever, however there is encouraging news. This time coming from a three-year Oregon State University study. The results? Reduce pollution, particularly nutrient runoff — which is relatively easy to accomplish, the study says, through improved sanitation and best farming practices — and the Florida Keys reefs make a dramatic comeback.
In as little as one year.

Tainter Lake, WI Algae Blooms Identified In National Info Resources

Sitting in Port Washington, WI, overlooking the port which empties into a beautiful blue Lake Michigan, the suggestion of an appearance of algae blooms gains little interest. Lake Michigan is deep and cold. Port Washington provides an adequate sewage system, and the relatively small amount of nearby farms only contributes what appears to be a manageable level of damaging nutrients.

Not so with 1600-acre, 37-foot deep, Tainter Lake, north of college town Menomonee, WI.

In an outstanding report by the National Wildlife Foundation (NWF), Tainter’s plight is well-documented. And is held up as an example of what, increasingly, is becoming a not-so-unusual occurrence across not just the Great Lakes Regi

Tainter Lake Algae Bloom
Tainter Lake Algae Bloom

on and the area’s inland lakes, but throughout the USA.

The NWF identifies three issues that must be addressed, to better combat America’s algae bloom crisis:

1. No federal agency currently tracks lake closures or health warnings nationally.
2. Few economic studies have assessed the national cost of freshwater HABs.
3. Not all states monitor or report the presence of algae-related toxins in freshwaters.

ToxicAlgaeNews, a superb online publication provided by non-profit publisher Resource Media, has stepped up to help cover bloom outbreaks by-state.

So far, the improved research and tracking has not helped Tainter Lake. But with progress being made, perhaps the time will come.