To solve Florida’s water quality problems, scientists must first identify the problems.
“Its easy for us to sometimes get trapped, thinking that water quality degradation is the challenge that we are facing, and I don’t think that is right,” Dr. Mark Rains, Florida State Science Officer, told the Blue Green Algae Task force at their August meeting. “Water quality degradation is a symptom of another challenge we’re facing which is land use and land cover change.
“When you think about it in 1845, Florida achieved statehood with less than 100,000 residents. One hundred and 75 years later, we’re 22 million residents, and 130 million annual visitors.
“During those 175 years, we’ve transformed Florida.
“Central to that transformation was the transformation of the water state. It’s a pretty wet state and we couldn’t fit 22 million folks into it plus 130 million annual visitors without making it less so.
“We’ve spent a lot of effort over the years directing water, and whatever it is carrying, away from urban areas to protect infrastructure and safety, away from our agricultural areas to bring land into production and increase yields. We directed it to the nearest major water bodies, in part because that is the natural course of things, but in part because we don’t normally live there and don’t normally farm there. And there was a whole host of unintended consequences, and it took us a while to figure that out.
“Statehood was in 1845. It’s something like 117 years before Rachel Carson writes “Silent Spring”in 1962 that sort of highlights the fact that we have these unintended consequences and really prompted a modern environmental reckoning.
“In 1969, the Cuyahoga River famoulsy catches on fire and really heightens public awareness. In 1972, we have an environmental protection agency and the Clean Water Act provides framework for water quality protection.
“All along that way, we’ve been transforming our state,” Rains continued.
“It’s important for us to keep in mind what we mean by water quality restoration, because we’re not going back to the 1845 Florida. Sure it was beautiful. If there was time travel tourism, I might make that trip. But it’s not compatible with 22 million people and 130 million annual visitors.
“What we are trying to do instead is build some of that original functionality into the modern landscape. That’s difficult because we’re not exactly sure how to do it from a scientific policy and funding standpoint, but it’s also difficult because the target keeps changing. Florida’s population keeps increasing by 1,000 people a day. The climate is changing.”
He said the Blue Green Algae Task Force recommendations provide guidance to the effort to restore some of the functionality of the natural system.