An innovative process to turn invasive aquatic vegetation and unconsolidated sludge into an organic liquid fertilizer continues to gain support from South Central Florida counties and cities.
AguaCulture Technology Solutions has collected resolutions of support from Glades, Collier, Okeechobee, St. Lucie, Oceola and Hendry counties as well as the cities of Fort Myers and Clewiston. AguaCulture representatives are on the agenda for the Nov. 3 Highlands County Commission meeting and the Nov. 17 Palm Beach County Commission meeting. AguaCulture officials also plan to visit Pembroke Pines, Sebastian, Stuart and Dade County.
The company has applied for Florida Department of Environmental Protection grant of $500,000 for a pilot project to prove the process can efficiently reduce the problem of invasive aquatic plants as well as reduce the nutrient loads in Lake Okeechobee.
At the Okeechobee County Commission Oct. 22 meeting, Nick Szabo, of AguaCulture Technology Solutions, gave a presentation about the process, which could be used on Lake Okeechobee to remove invasive plants and unconsolidated sludge, reducing the excess nutrient load that contributes to harmful algal blooms.
In the past the problem with mechanical harvesting of invasive plants was that no one knew what to do with the mountains of weeds once they were harvested, he said. Transporting and disposal of the weeds was expensive and piling up weeds on the shoreline sent the extra nutrient load back into the waterway as the weeds decayed.
To combat the problem of invasive vegetation, the State of Florida started using chemical herbicides.
“We’re using toxic chemicals to kill weeds. They sink to the bottom. They turn into muck, taking away all of the dissolved oxygen. As they break down, the nutrients go back up the water. The aquatic weeds start growing again, we spray them again, over and over, making more and more muck.
“Our solution is to close the loop: Remove the aquatic weeds, liquefy them, apply them to land, grow grass and harvest hay for a complete nutrient removal system.”
He said hay was chosen because grass is a simple crop that can be harvested every 30 days. The grass fields will hold the nutrients in place until they can be harvested as hay. He said when they haul the hay away, they remove the nutrients from the watershed.
Conventional mechanical harvesters harvest the plant material and then haul them to shore or place them on a barge, sometimes spending more time hauling material to shore than harvesting. The AguaCulture harvesting system will be mounted to an airboat, resulting in a versatile harvester that can go in areas traditional harvesters cannot go. The liquefied plant material is pumped through a hose to a tanker on shore. The floating hose design eliminates the need for the harvester to travel back and forth to shore.
“We’re never going to get rid of spraying, but in the open areas we can definitely reduce chemical spraying,” he said. He said harvesting the nutrients already in the lake would reduce the need for farmers to import fertilizer components from other countries. “We’ve got all of the potassium we need right here in the water. Why are we buying it?” he said.
He said they can also clean plants out of the Kissimmee River and prevent some of nutrient load from going into the lake. A cattle ranch on the Rim Canal has been identified for the pilot project.
Mikhael Elfenbein said support at the local level from cities and counties is important to obtain the support from the state and federal agencies.