NAPLES — The Department of Environmental Protection Blue Green Algae Task Force worked on recommendations on Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs), Best Management Practices (BMPs), septic systems, sewage spills and stormwater storage and treatment at their Sept. 25 meeting at Florida Gulf Coast University.
The task force noted the BMAPs have been hindered by local funding constraints, which have delayed restoration efforts. The task force recommends focusing on projects likely to yield maximum pollutant reductions, as well as sampling and monitoring programs to ensure the projects are working as intended.
• The task force recommended action to increase BMP enrollment in all areas. They also recommended more attention be given to record keeping and site visits to ensure the BMPs are being implemented properly.
“BMPs are important, but of themselves are not going to get us where we need to go,” said Dr. Thomas Frazer, Florida’s chief science officer.
“We need to do more,” said Dr. Valerie Paul, director of the Smithsonian Marine Station in Fort Pierce. She said she does not want to point the finger at any particular sector. The nutrient load problem is “anything and everything,” she said.
“We need to make sure we have compliance,” said Dr. Frazer. “We need some better record keeping. We need data that allows us to look at input.”
Dr. Paul noted that cyanobacteria have been around for 3.5 billion years. Warming temperatures will increase the problem, she said.
The committee noted hydrological changes, warming temperatures and increased human population.
“It’s complicated by the changes in the world around us,” said Dr. Frazer.
In recent years increases in rainfall have brought more runoff, said Dr. James Sullivan of Florida Atlantic University. He said more developments also mean more runoff.
Dr. Wendy Graham of the University of Florida said payment for ecosystem services could be part of a BMAP.
For example if there are more extreme rainfall events which bring the potential for more nutrient loading, volunteers could be asked to store more water.
Dr. Graham also encouraged supporting funding for conservation.
“One thing we don’t want is to have all of the agricultural lands converted to strip malls and subdivisions,” said Dr. Graham.
There is inherent value in keeping some agricultural lands functioning without development, said Dr. Frazer. Agricultural lands provide lots of value in benefits to wildlife, fisheries and food security, he said.
The task force discussed a recommendation that the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) and Florida Department of Environmental Protection have shared oversight for permitting septic tanks. Currently, septic tanks permits are under FDOH.
“Conventional septic system were never designed to reduce nutrients,” said Dr. Frazer.
Dr. Evelyn Gaiser of Florida Atlantic University said it is important to reduce nutrient pollution and preserve human health everywhere, not just in sensitive areas.
FDEP should have a say in whether new septic tanks are installed, said Dr. Michael Parsons of Florida Gulf Coast University.
“Even the best performing modern septic system can still be a problem with nutrient loading,” said Dr. Sullivan.
Sanitary sewer overflows
The task force considered a recommendation that emergency back-up capabilities be identified for all lift stations constructed prior to 2003. Sanitary sewer overflows are both a human health concern and a source of localized nutrient pollution. Sewage spills have been a problem when there are power outages from storms.
Leaky infrastructure is also a concern, the task force noted.
“If we talk about septic-to-sewer conversion and the sewer system cannot handle that, may not solve the problem,” said Dr. Paul.
Water quality monitoring
The task force supports more water quality monitoring to identify priority areas for project implementation. The task force recommends that additional environmental parameters be incorporated into those monitoring programs to aid understanding of the factors that lead to the development, maintenance and senescence of harmful algal blooms and toxin production.
Task force members noted they want to prioritize investment in technology that prevents algae blooms over technology that cleans up blooms after they occur. They also support investment in technology to identify blooms before they happen.
Dr. Parsons aid sampling should be done in areas where humans recreate.
“We can’t sample every body of water in the state,” he said.
The task force discussed recommendations of more stormwater monitoring, and stricter requirements for new developments to provide stormwater retention and stormwater treatment.
Dr. Frazer said he will update the draft recommendation document based on the comments shared at the Sept. 25 meeting and the task force will have a chance to review it. He said the revised document will be made available to the public, and the public will have another opportunity to comment on the recommendations.
During the public comment period, Brad Cornell, of Audubon Western Everglades and Audubon Florida, asked the task force to include wetlands preservation in their recommendations for reducing harmful algal blooms. According to NOAA data, he said, Southwest Florida lost 43 square miles of wetlands between 1996 and 2010. “It flies in the face of our national and state policy of no net wetland loss in acreage or function.
“Wetlands are nature’s kidneys,” he said. “They are an important natural way for nutrient uptake and reducing nutrients.
“Southwest Florida is severely compromised in its ability to reduce harmful algal blooms through nutrient uptake in its natural systems,” he continued.
He said the state needs to do a better job of restoring “like for like” wetlands.
“We also need to minimize use of uplands and exotic removal without any hydrological restoration as mitigation for actually destroying wetlands,” he said. “That’s a guaranteed wetland loss.”
DEP should consider restarting the rule making and improving the uniform mitigation assessments, he said. That was started in 2013 and was abandoned in 2016. He said the state should also require more nutrient uptake in the stormwater systems. “Let’s find ways we can make these stormwater systems have some wetland function,” he said.