Point of View: The battle over water and public health returns to Tallahassee (with Podcast Interview)
The governor’s Blue-Green Algae Task Force has prepared initial recommendations for the Legislature in 2020, which will make it harder for lawmakers to evade their responsibility.
After the last prolonged outbreak of red tide and blue-green algae it seemed every politician vowed to “do something.”
The spin from the last session was that the Florida Legislature produced “the most Everglades-friendly budget in Florida history.” And, yes, funds were budgeted for reservoirs and restoration projects to store and treat water and for research on red tide.
But, shockingly, the Legislature failed to enact any legislation addressing the sources of nutrient pollution that fuel toxic algae blooms, such as agri-business’ use of sewage sludge (biosolids) that seeps into the groundwater and water table, upgrading aging wastewater treatment plants, stormwater runoff and leaky septic tanks.
The governor’s Blue-Green Algae Task Force has prepared initial recommendations for the Legislature in 2020, which will make it harder for lawmakers to evade their responsibility. The Task Force report sets the inescapable factual context: “increased delivery of nutrients to Florida’s water bodies is widely recognized as the primary driver of algal proliferation...” and the major sources of nutrients are “agricultural operations, wastewater treatment plants, onsite sewage disposal systems and urban storm water runoff.”
From that, policy changes (i.e., legislative action) should follow:
– Upgrading the infrastructure of older sewage treatment plants, including requiring “emergency back-up capabilities” in case of power failures to lessen the risk of leaks of untreated wastewater and sewage overflows;
– Restoring “a septic system inspection and monitoring program (to identify) improperly functioning and/or failing systems so that corrective action can be taken to reduce nutrient pollution, negative environmental impacts and preserve human health.” This would reverse the Legislature’s 2012 repeal of mandatory inspections. The report also recommends legislation and funding “to accelerate cost-effective septic to sewer (conversion) programs” to reduce “nutrient pollution that leads to harmful algal blooms.”
– In some areas the Task Force was too timid, notably its failure to address agricultural use of sewage sludge (biosolids). Fortunately, the governor has called for legislation to permit their use only in areas where it will not seep into lakes, rivers and the water table.