News Feature | March 18, 2020

Florida Passes Bill To Curb Nutrient Contamination, Toxic Algae

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga

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Like many other waterways across the country, Florida’s source bodies have a substantial toxic algae problem due to nutrient runoff from myriad sources. And now, local legislators are trying to do something about it.

This month, Florida’s state legislature unanimously approved a bill to put measures in place that will curb nutrient runoff into state waterways and groundwater by addressing the problem holistically. It targets practices around septic tanks, municipal wastewater treatment, stormwater runoff, farm fertilizers, and more.

“Algae blooms in Florida rivers and other waterways have killed fish, irritated eyes and have shut down fishing, swimming, boating and other activities in a state where water resources are a huge tourist draw,” the Lexington Herald-Leader reported. “The bill seeks to better regulate onsite sewage treatment, upgrade leaky utility water lines and better manage farm fertilizers that wash into state waterways. It also directs the Department of Environmental Protection [DEP] to work with the University of Florida to recommend better management rules to prevent fertilizers from flowing from golf courses.”

The bill also places responsibility for the state’s 2.7 million septic tanks — many of which are old and leaking nutrients that cause harmful algae blooms into the environment — to the DEP, away from the state’s health department.

Despite the measures, some environmental groups say the measures won’t substantially protect waterways from nutrient pollution.

“Environmental groups warn the legislation … doesn’t go far enough and have criticized lawmakers for allowing farms to self-monitor their runoff into waterways — although farms would now have to be inspected every two years,” according to The Dayton Beach News-Journal. “While conservation activists are unhappy with the legislation’s rules for agriculture, the industry would face some new regulations. Farmers would be required to keep fertilizer records and submit to inspections every two years by state Agriculture Department officials to assure they’re complying with best management practices.”

Still, despite any criticism they may have received, local legislators are optimistic that the measures will make a significant difference in protecting Florida’s source water from nutrient pollution. It may even serve as a model for the many locales around the country facing similar toxic algae problems.

“This is going to be a piece of legislation that we’re going to talk about decades from now at the starting point where we shifted gears and proved to people that we, as a state, are prepared to take on these big environmental issues,” Florida Representative Blaise Ingoglia said, per Florida Insider. “Make no mistake about it, this is a historic piece of legislation.”

To read more about how municipalities address toxic algae in their waterways, visit Water Online’s Nutrient Removal Solutions Center.