What’s going to happen this summer, now that we’re finally getting some needed rains? So far the rain has been sporadic: When we get precipitation, it pours; if not, it’s drought. Our weather patterns have been backwards half of the time. The unusual is now to be expected.
I sincerely pray we don’t have recurring problems, but we need to prepare for algae blooms. Last week’s rain flushed many ditches, creeks and rivers. Because so many developments have destroyed nature’s filtration systems, we are going to have nutrients and pollutants flushed downstream. We can expect trouble anytime. It’s all but a certainty that blooms are coming.
They have had significant rains across inland Florida for a while, and we are already hearing of blue-green algae problems in other areas. Without the natural filtering of runoff, the nutrients are flushed into our already stressed waters. They will end up concentrated in areas with huge dead-end canal systems — for example, Cape Coral. Without adequate circulation, runoff will fertilize algae blooms.
Can we do anything to increase water flushing by introducing cleaner water with pumping or opening up natural flushing? How can we help these areas without hurting other areas?
Vast areas of the central U.S. had extra heavy snow, followed by rains all spring. As a result, there’s a huge amount of nutrient-polluted waters flowing down the Mississippi River this year. Consider the magnitude of this huge river drainage! Mississippi’s Gulf beaches were shut down by pollution for the Fourth of July — the state’s entire coastline. This hurts business and quality of life for residents and visitors. It cripples their economy on their biggest summer weekend. Every water-related business — including all the resorts, rentals and restaurants — suffers.
Can the same happen here? You bet it can. Several of our local beaches were closed recently due to high levels of bacteria. The effects of last year’s bad press will linger longer than the red tide did. Toxic algae blooms are ugly and dangerous, and must be reduced if we can find a way.
Those Mississippi discharges could be a problem for us too. Consider that some of our experts on red tide believe it starts offshore and then migrates in. This discharge is going to move south with the Gulf Stream flow. Might it be the fuel for another major outbreak? I’m not predicting it will, and I desperately hope it doesn’t happen. But let’s all observe and pay close attention to what happens and where it starts.
It’s past time to get more accurate knowledge of how our problems begin so we can tackle these blooms crippling our growth and economy. There is a lot of development sprouting up around here now. Another year of negative headlines could see that crash.
How should we report on water quality issues? We have an obligation to inform and to warn folks of dangers — but on the other hand, we don’t want to kill our economy. Some folks would rather see us just shut up and pretend there are no problems. What is our responsibility, and how can we balance things? Public health is serious. Warnings need to be accurate, yet we must avoid fear-mongering. Scaring everyone away from our waters and beaches is an economic disaster.
The current reporting on flesh-eating bacteria is scaring folks and their money away. On the flip side, coverage of the disaster is the only way we can get local governments to listen. When their budgets get hit, they pay attention. Remember property and sales taxes support government spending, and construction is a big chunk of our economy. The bottom line is accepting that we need to balance sustainable growth and environmental stewardship, and we need to keep authorities focused on both.
Are our government protections working? Unfortunately, the answer is they lack power and ability to require compliance. Sewage spills and minimal treatment are still the acceptable norm instead of the exception. We must require better treatment.
And it goes way beyond excess nitrogen and phosphorus. We need to understand that every pharmaceutical and chemical we flush goes past our treatment currently. All the drugs we take — birth control, opioids, hormones, anti-depressants, Viagra, antibiotics, etc. — are showing up in our waters! This surely will have effects, first on our aquatic plants and animals, but eventually on us.
What are the standards for water quality and waste treatment? Are they adequate? The costs to improve sewage treatment are staggering, but it’s life-threatening to our economy and possibly survival. Quality of life is important, but toxins in drinking water are critical. Resilience is a key word to consider here. Webster defines it as “an ability to recover from or adjust to misfortune or change.” We’ve been resilient so far — but how long can we hold out?
Sarasota County has had problems for a long time. They have danced around any real solutions. Where is their accountability? Venice beaches have suffered closures and bad press for years. Is Sarasota County liable? There are some lawsuits in the works now. Is this the major source of our problems on Manasota Key and Englewood Beach? If not, what are the sources and how can we affordably reduce our contributions?
Just a few economic figures from the American Sportfishing Association to end with: Last year, America’s 49 million anglers generated nearly $50 billion in retail sales with a $125 billion impact on the nations economy, creating employment for more than 800,000 people. Also, Florida leads the nation, with $4.1 million anglers and $4.18 billion in fishing-related sales (that’s just a touch over $1,000 per angler), plus 54,000 fishing-related jobs and fishing-related tax revenues of $533 million for the state and $350 million to the Feds.
I sincerely hope some of our local governmental leaders read this and grasp the significance of fishing to our economic welfare. This is some serious food for thought.
Capt. Van Hubbard is a highly respected outdoor writer and fishing guide. He has been a professional USCG-licensed year-round guide since 1976, and has been fishing the Southwest Florida coast since 1981. Contact him at 941-468-4017 or VanHubbard@CaptVan.com.