WEST PALM BEACH — The South Florida Water Management District plans to increase the number of water testing sites, how frequently the samples will be taken and the number of tests run on each sample under a plan outlined at the Aug. 8 meeting of the SFWMD governing board.
Dr. Susan Gray, bureau chief, SFWMD Applied Sciences, said water quality is monitored to measure the progress of the restoration projects; to evaluate necessary modification to the watershed construction projects to help achieve water quality standards; to support the Florida Department of Environmental Protection with system wide monitoring to measure compliance with water quality standards and progress toward achieving nutrient load goals in the basin management plants. The data will also help SFWMD monitor the nutrient contributions from non-point sources.
Using both water quality and biological data from research studies, the monitoring will support science-based recommendations for hydrologic and ecologic improvements.
The plan increases monitoring in Lake Okeechobee from 19 sites to 32 sites. The frequency of monitoring will increase from monthly to biweekly during bloom season (May through October.) Toxin levels and identification of dominant species of cyanobacteria will be tested at all 32 sites during the bloom season and at nine sites year round.
In addition, automated sondes at seven locations and two depths collect information on turbidity, temperature, chlorophyll and pH and/or light. Light senors will be deployed at three locations in the submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) around the edges of the lake.
In the Lake Okeechobee Watershed, which covers more than 3.5 million acres, expanded monitoring upstream of the lake will increase from 113 existing sites collected monthly to 150 sties collected bi-weekly. Currently phosphorus data is collected at 113 sites, and nitrogen data collected at 40 sites. This will be increased to phosphorus and nitrogen data collected at 150 sites. In addition, orthophosphate, ammonium, oxides of nitrogen, pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen and conductivity will be measured at all sites.
In the St. Lucie Watershed, testing areas will be increased from 31 existing sties to 46 sties, tested biweekly. Eleven of the new sites will be in the C-23, C-23 and C-44 basins not previously represented which contribute a substantial portion of the nutrient load, according to the SFWMD staff report.
In the Caloosahatchee upstream watershed, 15 monitoring sites will be added with biweekly testing.
The SFWMD governing board voted unanimously to approved the increased water testing plan. SFWMD Executive Director Drew Bartlett said the plan will be presented to the Blue Green Algae Task Force.
“Things like temperature and light are key to algae blooms,” said Dr. Gray. The additional data will make the SFWMD our statistical analysis more robust.
Algal blooms on Lake Okeechobee are ephemeral, she said. “Blooms come and go very quickly.” Regular testing is needed to catch samples of the water while the cyanobacteria is in bloom.
The data will give SFWMD and partner agencies a better handle for predicting and mitigating blooms whenever possible, she said.
All of the comments from the public at the meeting were in favor of the additional testing.
“Thank you for including nitrogen in the testing and for letting science guide us,” said Nyla Pipes of One Florida Foundation.
“Facts don’t care about your feelings,” said board member Cheryl Meads. She said some of those involved in the debates about water quality issues have a lot of feelings and no facts. Collecting the data to provide the facts will be a tremendous help to the board, so they can make decisions based on science, she said.
“Without all of the monitoring, there is no way we can plan for the future,” said board member Ron Bergeron. “What we have already built, what we may build in the future and what we may require from property owners will all depend on the data.”
Mr. Bartlett said the estimated cost for the monitoring will be about $2 million per year.