Just in time for the Fourth of July weekend, Florida’s governor declared a state of emergency for four coastal counties. The cause this time wasn’t a hurricane, but something much more insidious: algae blooms so thick that some residents compared them to guacamole floating on the water’s surface.
Many people living along the state’s Atlantic coast either stayed indoors or left town to avoid the stench; some who had boats docked in the area moved them to get them away from the slime. On Saturday, hundreds of demonstrators showed up on Stuart Beach bearing signs that said “Buy the Land,” encouraging the state to purchase thousands of acres in the Everglades Agricultural Area, which they say would alleviate the problem.
The polluted water that’s causing the algae blooms comes from Lake Okeechobee, which in turn receives runoff from agricultural lands to the north. To keep the lake level low enough to avoid flooding during hurricane season, and to relieve pressure on the aging and structurally unsound Herbert Hoover Dike that surrounds part of the lake, the US Army Corps of Engineers releases a certain amount of water, which carries high levels of nutrients from fertilizers and livestock manure. The polluted water flows to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries and other waterways in the southern part of the state, eventually resulting in the algae blooms.
It’s not the first time the problem has occurred, but residents say it’s worse this year than in the past. There is a high price to pay in lost tourism dollars. “This town is 100% driven by tourism,” one local is quoted as saying in this CNN article. “You go to the beach and it’s the height of summer, and we have empty beaches, empty restaurants, empty hotels.”
A New York Times article last week explained the state’s failed plan to purchase about 47,000 acres from agricultural giant US Sugar Corporation last year; the land would have served as a reservoir for the water that is being released from the lake.
This article from Stormwater provides some history of the dead zones in the Gulf and the process of eutrophication.
StormCon Is Seeking Moderators
If you plan to attend the StormCon conference in Indianapolis, August 22–25, consider stepping up to moderate one or more of the technical sessions. The full conference program is now online, and many 60- and 90-minute sessions are still available. Contact me ([email protected]) or Brigette Burich ([email protected]) for more information or to reserve a session.