An edition of: WaterAtlas.orgPresented By: Seminole County, USF Water Institute

Water-Related News

Almost half of Florida water bodies have algal blooms, and climate change is worsening the problem

Florida — home of armed iguana hunters, exploding toilets, and the nation's grandparents — just so happens to be the perfect petri dish for algal blooms. Because blue-green algae absorb energy from the sun and quickly grow in warm freshwater, the Sunshine State offers optimal conditions for the microorganisms called cyanobacteria to thrive.

Nearly all of Lake Okeechobee was covered in cyanobacteria in 2018, and the bacteria has returned this summer. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection tested 108 bodies of water statewide in the past month, and 44 percent had algal blooms. Eight sites were tested in Broward County in the past two weeks. Algal blooms were found in all but one.

"We have a problem," says Soren Rundquist, the director of spatial analysis for the nonprofit Environmental Working Group. "Florida's warmer climate is naturally conducive to algal blooms."

USF's poop-powered generator could have worldwide impact

Flowers are blooming in an unconventional spot. It's a vertical hydroponic wall attached to a small generator.

"Which is basically making use of the nutrients and water recovered from the waste water that our system is treating," explained University of South Florida researcher Jorge Calabria.

The mini sewage system is called the NEWgenerator. It was developed by USF engineering professor Dr. Daniel Yeh and his research team.

“NEW" stands for nutrients, energy and water, which the generator recovers from human waste.

"This system works well,” said Yeh. “It allows us to get rid of our waste and actually recover clean waterfrom that.”

It also harnesses energy.

"Think of this as a renewable natural gas that's sitting in our waste and we're, for the most part, not mining that. So we can mine that for heating water, cooking, generating electricity, a number of uses," explained Yeh. 

A new old way to combat toxic algae: float it up, then skim it off

In Florida, the Army Corps of Engineers is working to combat a growing environmental menace: blue-green algae. Nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from farms and subdivisions combines with warm summer weather to create massive blooms of algae in rivers and lakes that can be toxic.

In central Florida, Lake Okeechobee has been hit hard in recent years. In Moore Haven, on the western shore of the lake, Dan Levy was recently working on a solution. He was standing on a platform peering into a large water-filled tank. Inside, floating on top of the water was a thick mat of blue-green algae. "This is our treatment system," said Levy. "This is where we actually float the algae up and skim it across."

Levy is with AECOM, an engineering and infrastructure company that's working with the Army Corps of Engineers on the nagging and sometimes devastating problem. Algal blooms aren't just a nuisance. The algae, actually cyanobacteria, can produce toxins that threaten drinking water supplies, local economies and human health.

Sandy soil and rising seas spell septic tank disaster in Florida

Communities across Florida are already grappling with aging septic tanks, which leak into groundwater and are considered a leading cause of toxic algae blooms. As sea level rise is expected to worsen that situation, the state and cities are beginning to tackle the expensive task of converting septic systems to sewer or newer septic technologies.

It’s no small challenge. Floridians are estimated to be using 2.6 million septic systems, most of them the conventional variety with two parts: a tank in the ground close to the home and a “drainfield.”

A quick septic 101: When someone flushes a toilet or rinses off a plate, the wastewater is pumped into the tank, where “solids” settle to the bottom, forming “sewage sludge,” while oil and grease float to the top, forming “scum.” When septic systems get pumped, it’s to remove built-up sludge and residual scum.

Press release details

This is a listing of News Releases that have been sent to the media for distribution to the public about Seminole County business, announcements, and activities.