(Photo Credit: Tommy Locke)
(Photo Credit: Tommy Locke)

Everglades Water Quality: Part 2

The common theme for these crises is mismanagement of Florida’s water resources. The first problem is the alteration of freshwater flows into coastal waters. For example, the watershed of the Caloosahatchee River was once limited to southwest Florida. It now drains Lake Okeechobee’s watershed, which stretches to Orlando. And the Everglades and Florida Bay are nearly entirely cut off from the freshwater flows they used to receive. A similar scenario plays out at smaller scales for Florida’s other coastal waterways.

The second problem is that far too many nutrients are entering freshwater lakes, streams and rivers, which then empty into coastal waters. These nutrients come from Florida’s phosphate-mining industry, outdated sewage infrastructure, extensive use of residential septic systems, agricultural runoff, residential use of fertilizers, and stormwater runoff. These nutrient sources not only contaminate the surface waters, but also the aquifers—the amount of nutrients in Florida’s groundwater are far too high. These groundwaters then seep into coastal waters through Florida’s limestone base.

All of this has a negative impact on Florida’s economy. The combined annual economic impact of recreational and commercial fisheries is nearly $27 billion, more than any other state, which supports thousands of jobs. These fisheries depend upon good water quality and healthy habitats. As the health of Florida’s water and habitats has declined, so have the fisheries—incomes have declined, jobs have been lost and businesses have closed. Recent reports also show a decrease in real estate values in areas impacted by HABs.

The rate of Florida’s environmental decline has increased in recent years, but it has been long in the making. It will be similarly long in recovery. This means that schemes that provide downstream solutions are not only a waste of limited funds, they are irresponsible. The focus needs to be on addressing the upstream causes. This includes: modernizing sewage infrastructure, septic-to-sewer conversion, fertilizer ordinances to significantly reduce nutrient loads in runoff, and water flow restoration. Only with this long-term approach that addresses the causes of our current situation will this problem be addressed.

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