April 3, 2016. My following letter appeared in today’s Citrus County Chronicle.
Here we go again – another massive fish kill in a 40-mile stretch of Florida’s Indian River Lagoon, including the once popular and productive Mosquito Lagoon and Banana River areas. Viewing and smelling the thousands of rotting fish floating belly up last week did more than turn my stomach. So much for my planned kayak fishing trip there this Spring.
This latest, but not first catastrophe in the lagoon resulted from another round of heavy rains sending waves of nutrient rich runoff into it. The over-abundant nitrogen and phosphorus levels caused blooms of brown algae which depleted life-sustaining dissolved oxygen for fish and other marine life. The Florida State budget has allocated more than $72 million over the last three years, and over $20 million this year, to remove muck, a result of this runoff, from the area.
Further south, other ecological disasters exist as a result of water discharges from Lake Okeechobee, long polluted by runoff from nearby sugar cane fields. Billions of gallons of water released from it into the St. Lucie River in recent weeks have reached the town of Stuart to the east, while discharges into the Caloosahatchee River hit the towns of Fort Myers and Cape Coral to the west, fouling the St. Lucie / Indian River Estuary on one coast and the marine area around the popular Sanibel and Captiva Islands on the other. The resultant fish kills and associated public uproar prompted the Governor to declare a “State of Emergency”, and led the state to redirect further releases toward the Everglades, where only a couple of Indian tribes and a few environmental groups could be expected to do much complaining.
While the prognosis for Kings Bay and nearby waterways may be less dire than these cases, well-documented deterioration has occurred. Rather than focusing restoration on a comprehensive watershed management approach aimed at restoring spring flows and curtailing nutrient input into the bay, well-intentioned officials and groups continue focusing on a misguided 7-year, $40 million weed and muck removal program. At the same time, our county commission refuses to prohibit the continued importation of tons of sludge from distant sewage treatment plants for application on county lands. This sludge not only contains huge amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus, but also heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, and, who knows what else. Guess where they’ll end up?
The Southwest Florida Water Management District recently recommended a detailed and comprehensive $175 million basin-wide management program to restore Kings Bay and our precious river systems. How about placing fund seeking priority on that, rather than on the $40 million proposed for weed / muck removal, so we can more fully address the causes of water quality deterioration rather than its symptoms. There is only so much funding to go around.
Let’s be proactive in solving our environmental problems and not join others seeking massive amounts of limited funds for never ending aquatic weed whacking and muck dredging programs.