In the aftermath of Matthew … more water concerns.

Searching through articles post-Hurricane Matthew has yielded a host of concerns for the entire Eastern USA Seaboard – the area that was pummeled by the storm last week. Since much of what we have discussed regarding Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs) has focused on Southeast FL in general, and Lake Okeechobee (Lake O) in particular, let’s keep the conversation there for today.

And it is a messy matter, indeed. is a superb resource for all things Lake O and, truly, the issues facing Southeast Florida. As always, at the very foundation of HABs rests an overabundance of phosphorus.

And Lake O has way too much.

HAB in Southeast FL
HAB in Southeast FL

The question of what can be done is moot. That solution is multifaceted, time consuming and, most troublesome, costly. It involves several approaches, including better land management and sophisticated technology.

What will be done is this: to keep Lake O from flooding surrounding areas – which is always a distinct possibility, whenever the lake rises to 15 feet or so — nearly 2 billion gallons of water per day will be drained. With no set timetable for ending. It depends on how much rain continues to fall. And how dry the upcoming dry season of October, November and December really is.

All that said, for perspective, an area as large as roughly 1800 football fields, with 10′ deep water, would hold close to 2 billion gallons.

HABs in Southeast Florida will again make their presence known in 2017. And excessive phosphorus is the reason.


Technology Assisting in Great Lakes HAB Research

A couple of great articles illustrate the ingenuity and valuable contribution technology cameras and drones are making in monitoring HAB and other activity in the Great Lakes.

The first, an underwater camera that was installed off the shores of Shorewood, WI, by the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences  tracks activity beneath the water by providing camera shots every hour, over a period of four months.

The second, drones.

By getting well below cloud level, drones allow scientists to monitor HAB activity with incredible precision and photo clarity.

Drone view and 80-second video of Lake Michigan
Drone view and 80-second video of Lake Michigan

In the scientific battle to understand and ultimately take control of HABs, such technology-aided information is incredibly valuable. And, according to geology professor Joe Ortiz of Kent State University, the time has come: “I actually think the future is now,” Mr. Ortiz said. “We’re going to be seeing this within the next couple of years. Stay tuned for that.”

Dr. Harvey Bootsma, at UWM, agrees.

“It definitely has a scientific purpose,” said Bootsma, whose camera uncovered surprising insights into the impact of zebra mussels in Lake Michigan.


Harmful Algae Bloom Research? More Funding!

This terrific article by CNBC presents a nice summary of some issues pertaining to Harmful Algae Blooms (HAB) across the USA. At its end, it remarks that funding for HAB research has been cut over the past several years from $22 milion to $9 million.

If this were not true, it would be considered preposterous. After all, the total budget for the US Government in 2016 is $3,950,000,000,000,000 — of which $9,000,000 is being applied for HAB research.

Stuart FL Algae Bloom
Stuart FL Algae Bloom

Let’s look at these numbers again.


When the 12th largest body of water in the world, Lake Erie, and the 11 million people who rely on it for their water supply are dramatically and negatively affected on an annual basis by HAB outbreaks, this meager investment is clearly insufficient.

Consider that an estimated $6,000,000,000 will be spent on the presidential election alone … and you see the problem here.

According to this terrific report by Wood’s Hole Oceanographic Institution which is admittedly 20 years old, the annual cost of HAB in the USA THEN was about $50,000,000 year. That number is surely higher now … most likely markedly so.

The solutions for reducing HAB are out there. They cost money. It takes research.

A country with a budget such as our’s, with one-year presidential political campaigns that spend more than the money the National Basketball Association grosses in a year, can do much better.

Or HAB will only get worse.

Lake Okeechobee … a thumbnail explanation for HAB crisis.

No doubt about it … Florida is in crisis-mode as it contends with the horrible side-effects of Harmful Algae Blooms (HAB). Unfortunately, the crisis was all to predictable, after nearly unprecedented torrential winter rains filled Lake Okeechobee to threateningly high levels — and resulted in mass-draining of the polluted (see: toxic) lake.

ABC News reported on July 4th that Florida’s Gold Coast is suffering from a nearly worst-ever tourist turnout. Hundreds of millions of tourist dollars have already been lost, and more economic fallout will follow.

As far back as 1999, concerns over phosphorus loading from agriculture were being presented by the State of Florida Environmental Protection Agency. In 2011, even more clarity regarding phosphorus runoff into Lake Okeechobee, largely from area agriculture, was brought to light:

Water quality in the lake has degraded over time due to high phosphorus loadings resulting from man-induced hydrologic and land use modifications over the past 60 years. The total phosphorus concentrations that currently exist in the lake are in excess of the amount needed for a healthy ecosystem. The in-lake total phosphorus concentrations have doubled over the last 50 years ….

Gold Coast Algae Bloom
Gold Coast Algae Bloom

With all the aforementioned heavy rain, in February, 2016, concerns over flooding resulted in the Army Corp of Engineers decision to drain Lake of Okeechobee at a rate of 70,000 gallons per second. And eventually all this dirty water flows to the tourist areas … bringing HABs with it.

A February 26, 2016 article by was downright prophetic in predicting the “What Happens Next” stemming from this inevitable, if ill-fated, decision.

The simple fact is this: too many nutrients in water are a bad thing. They present a problem that spreads with runoff from land, which flows into waterways and then moves to other areas. Florida’s Gold Coast may be the latest, and most glaring example. But it is far from the only one.