State agencies acknowledge pollution contributes to algal blooms

Credit: CBS
Credit: CBS(WCTV)
Published: Jan. 23, 2019 at 5:52 PM EST
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By: Jake Stofan | Capitol News Service

January 23, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- Under the previous governor, Florida’s environmental agencies refused to acknowledge humans played a part, but now, they are shifting their tone when it comes to dealing with toxic algae blooms.

The same agencies told lawmakers Wednesday morning human activity and pollution is making the blooms worse.

In September, during the peak of the Red Tide bloom, the Florida Fish and Wild Life Conservation Commission gave an update on the crisis. Officials doubled down on a particular line: Naturally occurring.

Now, 15 months after the bloom began and a new governor took office, the FWC and the Department of Environmental Protection are acknowledging human pollution as another possible factor.

“Control of those excess nutrients into inshore waters will help with the impacts of red tide once it gets there," said Gil McRae, Director of the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.

Jonathan Webber with the Florida Conservation Voters says it's an important change in tone.

“People in the executive branch are taking this really seriously and acknowledging that there is a link between prolonged or worsening red tide and human activity," said Webber.

While the governor and FWC are so far focused on septic-to-sewer conversion as the best way to reduce nutrient loads, they also acknowledge agriculture as one of the culprits.

“Also management of storm water, because as we get these heavy storms, a lot of that water hits our coastal systems very quickly. It's much better to slow that water down and filter it through wetlands which remove a lot of the nutrients," said McRae.

Lawmakers like Representative Holly Raschein are taking note.

“There's a large population south of Lake Okeechobee and the human impacts on this whole thing and I think everything is kind of on the table," said Raschein.

One thing that didn’t come up in Wednesday's presentations is whether global warming may be affecting algal blooms. Conservation groups say that also needs to be part of the conversation.

Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order earlier this month, calling for a septic-to-sewer grant program to be established. It also directed state agencies to closely study red tide and blue green algae to find a scientific way of reducing impacts of the blooms.