Politicians promised cooperation, and scientists described engineered fixes for toxic algae problems at a water quality summit Tuesday in Punta Gorda.
Some 600 people gathered for a four-hour long water quality summit hosted and proposed by Charlotte County Commissioner Bill Truex.
Twelve experts, including two state lawmakers with local ties, accepted invitations to speak in their specialty at the Charlotte Harbor Event and Conference Center in Punta Gorda.
“I thought it was very balanced,” said audience member Mark Spurgeon, owner of Boca Grande Real Estate. “One thing that was very encouraging is that science is being engaged with this.”
State Sen. Ben Albritton (R-Bartow) and State Rep. Michael Grant (R-Port Charlotte) both shared their assessment of the Legislature now that twin algae infestations have gained the state national notoriety. The infestations are the salt-water red tide and fresh water cyanobacteria.
“There is a huge amount of buzz going on around the Capitol,” said Albritton of Tallahassee. “I have never seen the focus across the board, as I see now on solving these problems.”
“You will see projects coming online that will improve the quality of water,” said Grant. “We will be held accountable. If you don’t like what we did, we won’t be here.”
They referred to new Gov. Ron DeSantis’ recent proposals, including $15 million over five years to Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium to study ways to handle red tide. Red tide has persisted for 15 months on much of the coast of Florida, with its airborne toxins driving away some tourists and threatening the state’s high-end real estate, according to some news reports.
Albritton warned about Florida politics when he said he was not going to talk about his plans for ensuring funding and legislation.
“You don’t always share what your priority is, because you don’t want somebody to take it as a hostage,” he said.
Both legislators identified homeowner septic tanks as a prime target for water quality improvements.
“We put a big red X on these tanks within some distance of an impaired water body,” said Albritton. “Our citizenry is going to have to understand that it may be convenient to have septic,” he said, but they must be willing to talk about fixing them.
Grant predicted that septic overhaul will increase the cost of housing in the state, but it is necessary to keep Florida an appealing destination.
Several scientists talked about the newest ways to study red tide.
Mote scientist Cynthia Heil listed ways people have tried and failed to control red tide, including copper sulfate in the 1950s. Copper sulfate killed the organism, she said, and caused it to release toxins. Then it came back almost immediately.
Heil is director of the new Red Tide Mitigation Institute funded by a local philanthropist. The institute plans to work with experts worldwide who face similar problems, she said.
A number of state engineers and ecologists talked about work in the center of the state to clean up the blue-green algae bloom that is filling Lake Okeechobee and released into east-west rivers.
Ecologist Paul Julian of the state Department of Environmental Protection described numerous projects to clean up water heading into the lake. Asked why the lake is still in crisis, he told the Sun the state is not sure why.
“We had hoped for more bang for our buck,” he said of the project to restore the Kissimmee River.
Phil Flood of the South West Florida Water Management District blamed the federal government for failing to keep up with the $1 billion it promised to the state in 2000.
Flood also answered a question from the audience about using nature to fix water quality problems. He said that people now live where nature once placed water. So many proposed solutions can only mimic nature.
“Unless we’re willing to all move back to where we came from, we can’t put it back the way it was.”