Consider this installment two of h2ostokes take on this algae/pollution debacle tormenting the treasure coast. Our goal isn’t taking political sides. There’s enough divisiveness out there without us adding to it. We do however, want to report on the contributing factors that led to this mess.
A brief history. The Okeechobee watershed used to unburden its summer rainy season slowly downhill, via the “river of grass” through the everglades and gulf. Over time, this downhill run was dammed, diked, diverted, locked, levied, and filled for “progress and safety.” As a result, nearly all the downhill flow is controlled and diverted to a couple river systems that empty into the Atlantic or Gulf of Mexico.
Eventually, both agricultural and residential development around and along these waterways has increased the amounts of fertilizer and sewage runoff into a relatively narrow path that concentrates on the Atlantic side. As a result, the effected coast, bays, and estuaries are experiencing toxic algae blooms that wreak havoc on the environment and water based communities. In fact, it’s creating dead zones that strangle marine life as we’ve come to appreciate it. Both the environmental, health, and economics of the region are taking a big hit.
What should change? There’s lots of opinions, both short and long term. The obvious, decrease the amount of runoff into the water systems. The probable biggest contributor is the sugar industry. Can or will they find a way to drop their production discharge? The same can be said for animal waste from commercial meat producers. Furthermore, plenty of rural communities along this route utilize septic systems rather than sewage treatment plants. Many of these septic fields inevitably leech into the groundwater thus adding to the dilemma. Finally, and in our quest for green lawns, playing fields, and golf courses, fertilizer runoff adds to the problem.
Follow the money. Lake Okeechobee water discharge is higher than necessary due to under funded maintenance on levees. The worry is too high a lake level could breach a levee and cause catastrophic flooding. Big sugar and agriculture reign supreme with government lobbying and campaign finance. Resulting in poor control concerning pollution legislation and regulation. Funds voted on for the construction of drainage reseviors, buffer zones, and levee maintenance have been diverted for other budget shortfalls. State legislators have ignored warnings for years this problem was coming(see the campaign finance statement.)
Solutions? Many fingers in this catastrophe pie. Probably the best remedy overall is political pressure. Write, email, or call your state and federal representatives demanding that they address the problem. Your actual vote holds far more sway than lobbyists. In the mean time, for you surfers and paddlers in these war zones, come hang at our breaks. Our shoulders are yours to cry on. Our waters welcome your smile.