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Improving Florida’s Water Quality

Algae blooms have received significant attention in the media — and for good reason. These blooms cause serious environmental harm to water, wildlife, and ecosystem health. Plants, fish, and other animals can die. For some of Florida’s most important industries (fishing, boating, tourism, etc.), this leads to economic hardship. In addition, algae can produce toxins that impact human health. Earlier this month, the Blue-Green Algae Task Force released a report with science-based recommendations to help restore and protect Florida’s water bodies affected by algal blooms.

A blue-green algal bloom covers the surface of Lake Okeechobee during the summer of 2016. Source: NASA

The term “algae” is given to a diverse group of organisms that live in water. One type of algae, “blue-green algae” (also known as cyanobacteria) is commonly found in freshwater lakes around Florida. However, under certain conditions this algae can grow quickly and span the entire surface of lakes. How do algae grow? Nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus “feed” the algae, causing it to spread rapidly. When there is an excess amount of nutrients in a water body, large blooms occur that become nearly impossible to control.

 

Where do excess nutrients come from? Nutrients get into our water in a variety of ways and from numerous sources. To reduce the amount of nutrients that get into our water, we all need to come together to find solutions. That is exactly what the Blue-Green Algae Task Force was tasked to do. The task force identified areas for improvement and following the release of their report, Governor DeSantis announced some state-wide changes to address several of the task force’s recommendations. While the state addresses these larger concerns, there are small things we all can do to help improve water quality and reduce algal blooms.

 

Do you have a septic tank?

Nearly one-third of the wastewater generated in Florida is treated by septic systems. Unfortunately, many of these systems don’t properly treat wastewater and release nutrients into our groundwater and surface waters. If you have a septic tank, have it inspected to ensure it is functioning properly and not contributing to pollution.

 

Do you use lawn and garden chemicals?

Use fertilizer and herbicide appropriately and only when needed. Follow Florida Friendly Landscaping ™ Principles to minimize the impact of your lawn and garden on our water. These principles include: Right Plant Right Place, Water Efficiently, Fertilize Appropriately, Use Mulch, Attract Wildlife, Manage Yard Pests Responsibly, Recycle, Reduce Stormwater Runoff, and Protect the Waterfront.

 

Do you live near a stormwater pond?

Stormwater ponds play an important role in treating runoff water that has collected pollutants throughout our neighborhood. Are there plants on the banks of your pond? Plants filter nutrients from water and can act as a buffer between the pond and our lawns, roads, or sidewalks. If there are plants, be sure to not remove them or mow them down. If you live along a pond, leave a 10 foot buffer between the pond and where you use fertilizer or herbicide.

 

To learn more about algal blooms, visit: Harmful Algal Blooms: Red Tide vs. Blue-green Algae

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