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Water-Related News

DEP Report: Half of Florida lakes’ surface have “elevated” algae levels

Florida waters are growing greener, saltier and more toxic in some parts, according to a new report on the state’s waters.

The report from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection shows a mixed bag for the state’s waters, with many trending toward more-frequent toxic algae blooms, fueled by rising nitrates from farm and residential fertilizers, sewage, pet waste and other human-related sources.

DEP’s new report, called the 2016 Integrated Water Quality Assessment for Florida, spells out why these kinds of toxic algae blooms keep happening, and why some Florida well water is turning saltier and less healthy to drink. The report outlines the overall condition of Florida’s surface and ground water from 2012 to 2014. The Clean Water Act requires states submit the reports to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency every two years, including which waters don’t meet pollution limits.

Key findings of Florida’s 2016 integrated report include:

  • One hallmark of algae is elevated in 50 percent of the state’s lake area.
  • Nitrates remain the biggest issue in surface waters that get significant inputs of groundwater, especially springs.
  • Increasing trends in salt-water intrusion and nitrate and nitrite in groundwater.
  • Almost 70 percent of the 2.9 million acres Florida’s lakes and estuaries DEP assessed were “impaired.”

“As far as water quality, much of it looks the same as it has in previous years,” said Julie Espy, program administrator for DEP’s water quality assessment program.

But the rise in nitrogen and phosphorus continues to worsen in many Florida waters, DEP’s report found, especially some of the smaller lakes that get less attention than Lake Okeechobee and other larger waterbodies.

Median levels of nitrate in Florida’s groundwater have increased to more than 1 milligram per liter, 5 times the levels prior to the 1970s, causing many to clog up with plants. As late as the 1980s, median nitrate levels in the state’s groundwater were only .05 milligrams per liter.

Farm and residential fertilizers, sewage and population growth have fed those increases.