Toxic Algae at My House

I feel as if I have been ranting about the Toxic Bluegreen Algae we have been inundated with here on the Treasure Coast of South Florida, but I think most of my ranting has been on Facebook. I like to keep the pretty things on my blog. I apologize in advance as this is about as not pretty as you can get.

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I live near the end of the St. Lucie River on the east coast of South Florida. It is entirely possible you have seen this on the news. For the first time, I am happy to not have a riverfront home. We have been overrun by a toxic, festering stew of algae from the center of our state. Our shores are fouled, wildlife is dying and for what reason?

Here is an oversimplification of the story:

About 90 years ago, in the name of flood control and agricultural interests two canals were dug to prevent overflow from Lake Okeechobee, the big hole seen in all maps in the center of Florida. A dike was added a few years later to hold the water back and named for Herbert Hoover. The dike is currently in questionable condition and thousands of people live below it. For drainage purposes the lake was connected by these canals to two rivers, the St Lucie (to the Atlantic) and the Caloosahatchee (to the Gulf of Mexico) Agricultural interests surround and (much of it cattle) drain surface water into Lake O. In the past year or so the state of Florida relaxed all of its formerly mandatory pollution surface water rules on agriculture and viola! We are now in the midst of a historic outbreak of Toxic Bluegreen Algae. This particular type of algae thrives on phosphorous and nutrient laden water from, yes, agriculture. The algae bloom in Lake O is currently 30 square miles.

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The toxic aspect of this algae is released into the air as it turns blue. It can contain neurotoxins and heptatoxins causing anything from sinus problems and rashes to liver failure if ingested. ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) has been associated with these toxins.

Local blogger/ River Warrior Cyndi Lenz famously said ‘it smells like death on a cracker’

Local firebrand /River Warrior Marjorie Shropshire famously said, I am paraphrasing ‘our river has been turned into the anus of Lake Okeechobee’. Marjorie braved the toxic stew to take all of these photos and graciously shared them.

In addition to all the excess nutrients in the lake, we have also had an extremely wet dry season, causing excess water in the lake and necessitating more nutrient/algae polluted water to be flushed down our estuaries. The old Herbert Hoover dike ain’t what it used to be and no one will own up to taking care of it. It should be noted the estuaries of both rivers are somewhat salty naturally, but by virtue of the vast quantities of water added the rivers are now fresh water. Decimating much of the plant and animal life that thrives in salty waters.

A state of emergency was declared in the county I live in, Martin. Nothing has happened that I have observed. This toxic algae event was featured in the media over the Fourth of July holiday weekend as most of the beaches were closed in the area due to the algae. I am personally not going in the water anytime soon.

The US has a governmental agency called the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA is designed to protect, yes, our environment. So, I contacted them and was told this was not in their jurisdiction! Non point source pollution is a state issue and the state relaxed their rules. Oversimplified explanation:

EPA only has jurisdiction over point source polluters: Point pollution comes from one place. For example, if  Billy Bob’s sausage factory throws 10,000 dead pigs in the river the EPA busts them.
Florida has non point jurisdiction. Hypothetically, if, 10,000 people threw dead pigs in the river, it is OK because Florida really doesn’t care. This evidenced by no rules governing the tossage of dead pigs/toxic pollution/fertilizer into the water. Result we have 10,000 dead pigs in the river and the EPA won’t touch it.
Ironically, because all this polluted water comes out at one spot it is technically point source pollution. When I brought this up with Mr. EPA I was told they wouldn’t enforce water quality standards (even though they have them) because this was an emergency to save the dike.
I was left with the strong feeling the EPA hasn’t stumbled into our waters for quite a while and they won’t be here anytime soon. To say the least this is extremely disappointing as I believe these are the only people who could possibly help the overtaxed estuaries and the people and the wildlife overcome the algae.
Another point brought up by Mr. EPA was the plan for fixing this gigantic problem, called CERP.  CERP is a massive 16 Billion dollar public works project to de engineer what is causing this problem. CERP is a 35 year /16 Billion dollar project unlikely to be funded, in my opinion. Begun in 2000 and designed by several hulking bureaucracies and overseen by the ‘concrete it and paint it green’ generation of engineers. I think we can do better. In the past 10 years the practice of civil engineering has become much greener and I think a better, cheaper and greener solution can be found. We need new leadership or a leader. I would like to see this solved in my lifetime as I am really not sure how much more of this our estuaries can take.
In all fairness, I should mention I contacted the state of Florida and the sounds of crickets in the distance was all I heard from them.
Does the life safety of the people below the potentially/perpetually failing Herbert Hoover dike outweigh the life safety of all the people, fish and anything in the way of the 10,000 dead pigs Florida and the Federal Government just flushed down the river, potentially killing every living thing in two estuaries?
 I don’t have any qualms about safely managing a dike – but what about all those dead pigs in the water, Governmental Entities? And what about those of us breathing the toxic air?
More crickets.
I rashly wrote a letter to Barack Obama, still waiting and hoping the White House might help.
The governor of Florida came out swinging when he asked the Federal Government to declare a Federal state of emergency here, saying it was the personal fault of the President that this happened. The Herbert Hoover dike was feeling queasy again.
We’re just down here looking at a poisonous, festering pool of dead pigs. Unfortunately, none of them politicians.
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25 comments on “Toxic Algae at My House

  1. cyndilenz says:

    Amelia! This is the most amazing blog. You totally summed things up and Iove the last line. “We’re just down here looking at a poisonous, festering pool of dead pigs. Unfortunately, none of them politicians.”
    I live here also and I am 2 minutes from this stuff. There is no mask in the world that will keep the smell out.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. cyndilenz says:

    You are right about no leadership. We had our fifteen minutes of fame. Everyone else has gone to a beach elsewhere.

    Like

  3. An interesting read about an absolutely crazy situation. I do hope you get some answers to your plight.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a horrible state of affairs, Amy. I know how concerned you have been. I have heard about it on the radio, more recently too. But to see it: my gosh – this is awful.

    Like

  5. George Rogers says:

    As a lifelong environmentalist, as a botanist, as a teacher, as a treasure coast naturalist, as a fancier of algae, and as a boat owner on the Intracoastal, I fear and loathe the cyanobacterial plague as much as anyone…and more. And there’s no question about a need for better leadership, but still find myself scratching my head about, “where then does all that nutrient rich water go when the Lake runneth over?”

    I’m in the choir singing “fix it,” but technically speaking…how? Long ago a leading CERP notion was some 300 wells to stash the water underground…that probably proved how ill-conceived much of CERP was. Should we tear down the Hoover Dike and dump stinkwater across the Ag Area into the Everglades? Reconfigure the Lake with megamoney that does not exist to make it a bigger cesspool? Let the water build up until it busts out? More water catchment areas?…Not so sure the math would work out on that, and where? Put it in old quarries? That doesn’t add up either, and goodbye groundwater.

    Certainly most large complex problems need multi-faceted answers, probably including a need for restoration and rejiggering “upstream” from the Lake, but the scales, costs, and feasibility issues are mind-boggling. Enforcement sounds good, but a sore on the rump of environmental regulation, as you noted, is how do you enforce regulations on non-point source pollution? Curtailing backpumping would be a great start probably, and it would be interesting to see a quantified study on how much the nutrient load can be reduced by realistic levels of agricultural regulation and enforcement. And then there’s still all that water.

    We all are hollering HELP…Whatever that help may be, the math involves big numbers. What will of course actually occur is the problem will settle down for now, nobody will do anything, and it all goes away until the cyanobacteria rise again. We need good leadership to round up funds and spark action, but do we even really know what that action should be? Turn back the time machine and kick 3/4 residents out of Florida might work.

    Liked by 1 person

    • George, call me crazy but I think this can be solved with engineering working with the environment. It was nice to see some decent pictures of sediment and erosion control on your blog today. Unfortunately you don’t see that in Martin County. Florida is 10 years behind in land development regulation in many ways and that law passed by our state effectively put pollution control back to the 1970s at least. Did you see the $10 million prize from the Audobon Society? you should go for it!

      Like

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