Stakeholders protest aquatic herbicide spraying

Posted 12/7/23

Floridians continue to protest the use of chemical herbicides to control ...

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Stakeholders protest aquatic herbicide spraying


ORLANDO – Floridians continue to protest the use of chemical herbicides to control invasive aquatic plants in the state’s lakes and waterways.

At the Dec. 5 meeting of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission public comment period, stakeholders complained about herbicide spraying of plants on Lake Apopka and Lake Okeechobee.

Andy Braddock, who volunteers as a member of the Invasive Plant Management (IPM) Technical Advisory Committee on behalf of United Waterfowlers of Florida, spoke out about chemical spraying on Lake Apopka.

“Six weeks ago, I began receiving calls from stakeholders involving rumors of a large-scale herbicide treatment on the lake,” he explained. The technical advisory committee had not been informed of any such plan. Two weeks later, he learned there was a major treatment planned at the beginning of waterfowl season. The treatment was being done by St. Johns Water Management District using $7 million allocated by the Florida Legislature for the work.

He said along with a dozen other stakeholders, he attended the St. Johns Water Management District meeting, where a “vague and misleading” presentation by Dr. Erich Marzolf justified the spraying plan in the name of flood control.

“Currently according to FWC’s mapping, there is only 19% SAV (submerged aquatic vegetation) on the lake,” he continued. “Treatment of 6,000 acres, which I believe was done last week, leaves less than 2% submerged aquatic vegetation on the lake.”

He said he asked what he thought were reasonable questions: What is the plan, where are you spraying and when are you going to spray it. “Dr. Marzolf’s answer was clear: We’re not going to tell you.”

He said two FWC biologists were at the meeting, and it was clear they had not been consulted about the spraying plan. “I have an issue with FWC granting a permit when the statute gives you the authority to deny a permit,” he said.

Jack Harper of the Florida Lake Shepherds said the State of Florida has not inspected herbicide spray boats for safety and federal label law safety violations since 2011.  He said he has verified that fact with the law enforcement branches of the FWC and with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

“You have a $20 million unsupervised, wild, wild west spraying poison program that has moved Florida into first place for the most polluted waterways,” he said.

Florida Statute requires that each permittee shall notify potential users subject to or affected by the aquatic plant management activity prior to the spraying, he continued.

There have been no public postings of herbicide control activities since June of this year, he said. “Thus, endangering the public safety and health of Florida.” Until July 1, 2023, spray plans were posted on the “What’s Happening on My Lake” page on the FWC website.

“Do the violations of these federal laws warrant a class action suit?” he asked.

“Prior to any spray operation, you are supposed to post the notification so everybody in the State of Florida in the state of Florida can see what is going on, so they don’t die of herbicide poisoning,” he said.

“This lake in particular has become ground zero for waterfowl hunting in the state,” he said.

He said by providing the funding to the water management district, the Florida Legislature circumvented the process which required engagement with stakeholders.

“I’m watching this lake just get crushed,” he said.

“I stand here wanting to know why the FWC has totally abandoned wildlife and habitat on Lake Okeechobee (the largest lake in Florida) and on the fifth largest lake in Florida, Lake Apopka,” said Newton Cook of United Waterfowlers. “We have a situation on Lake Apopka that is very disturbing.

"Last year we went through this, and we reached a compromise," he explained. “This year, we did not get a heads up from FWC staff when the water management district came in and got the OK for three years to destroy and spray out Lake Apopka.” 

“When we found out, it was a fait accompli – we were told this is going to happen. There is no excuse for that.” He said if they had been given notice, they would have tried to work out a compromise so the birds and fish would have some habitat.

“This lake was a mudhole 15 years ago. One thing saved this lake and that was hydrilla. Hydrilla is an exotic. We have to control it. We all understand that. But you cannot spray it out of the lake and then plant some eel grass and pond weed … and expect to save that lake.”

“You destroyed wildlife and the fishing – which was back – but it won’t be back next year,” he continued.

“Lake Okeechobee, we’re sitting here with the Corps of Engineer holding the lake at 16 feet. The SAV – not hydrilla on Lake Okeechobee – is killed at 15 feet or higher. We’re down to 2,000 acres of SAV on at 460,000-acre lake.”

He said the SAV is the lake’s natural filter system as well as critical habitat for fish and wildlife.

“LOSOM is written so we never get the lake down to 12.5 feet,” he said. “We’re killing -- with no objection from the FWC -- the largest lake in Florida and the fifth largest lake in Florida.” 

Another speaker, Scott Wilson, said that while the FWC board claims to listen to stakeholders, their lack of action prove they only pretend to listen.

“Did you listen in the early 90s when Dr. Heller told you that aquatic spraying was only a temporary solution to control aquatic plants?” he asked. “You’ve turned a deaf ear for years on tens of thousands statewide ... this is a travesty to democracy."

“Ranking FWC biologists continually tell stakeholders there are no other alternatives,” he said. “That is flat out untruthful.

“It has become abundantly clear this travesty is being done with purposeful intent. I thought for years it was as simple as money and greed but now I believe it goes much deeper. IPM is killing what makes Florida, Florida,” Wilson said.

spraying, Lake Okeechobee, FWC, Lake Apopka