News Feature | November 25, 2016

Forum Focuses On Florida's Water Quality Issues

Dominique 'Peak' Johnson

By Peak Johnson

Florida continues to struggle with issues regarding pollution and its waterways. Just this year, the state has suffered from red tide to a sinkhole that opened up beneath a storage pond in Mulberry.

Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Director Charlie Hunsicker told Sarasota’s Herald-Tribune that although wastewater treatment has improved over the years, “stormwater is really the culprit now.”

To protest the issues, fifty people gathered together in mid-November for a League of Women Voters of Manatee County forum about Florida’s water pollution.

Tracy Fanara, a staff scientist at Mote Marine Laboratory said that though stormwater is not considered a source of red tide, she added “that polluted runoff on the coast can sustain an outbreak.”

Also known as Karenia brevis, named for retired biologist Karen Steidinger, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC) defines red tide as "harmful algal bloom, wherein there is a higher-than-normal concentration of a microscopic alga (plantlike organism)."

The first instance of dead fish was reported in September by The Tampa Bay Times. Fish were washing up on at the Tradewinds Resort on St. Pete Beach. The red tide algae blooms are not caused by the release of waste into the coastal waters, according to The Tampa Bay Times, but sewage can fuel the bloom so that it sticks around longer.

Red tides can last as little as a few weeks or longer than a year, according to Nature World News. Because of the toxic chemicals that are carried by the wind, there is a possibility that red tides could be dangerous.

Usually the red tides cause no problems, but there are times when the algae population offshore “explodes into something called a bloom in which the algae multiplies rapidly and spreads,” The Tampa Bay Times reported.

In September, sewage contamination in Florida’s Boca Ciega Bay looked as if it was killing off countless birds.

“On Aug. 8, after weeks of heavy rains, Gulfport dumped more than 300,000 gallons of sewage into Boca Ciega Bay. Four days later, the first dead black skimmer was found on the beach. A few weeks later, Tropical Storm Hermine dumped even more rain on Pinellas County,” WTSP reported.

“Then on Sept. 2, Gulfport dumped close to another 900,000 gallons of sewage. More than 45 birds have been found dead and some environmental activists worry it could be because of the raw sewage in the water,” the report said.

Dead birds found along the shore had residents questioning the link to sewage. The birds, known as black skimmers, were taken to the Florida Wildlife Research Institute for investigation.

Sandy Nettles, a hydrogeologist, doubts that the Mosaic phosphate plant in Mulberry and environmental regulators can determine the extent of the water damage.

“Unfortunately I don’t think they have sufficient information about the geology beneath that stack,” Nettles told the Herald-Tribune. “It’s extremely difficult to monitor contaminants... They don’t have the data to figure out where it went and by now it’s too late to figure out where it went.”

For similar stories visit Water Online’s Source Water Contamination Solutions Center.