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Governor Ron DeSantis Announces Preparation for Algal Bloom Mitigation Following Announcement by Corps of Releases from Lake Okeechobee

Special to Washington County News

~Innovative technology staged to be deployed if needed to protect South Florida estuaries and communities ~

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Today, Governor Ron DeSantis announced that in anticipation of harmful discharges released from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) are preparing for the use of innovative technology to mitigate blue-green algae if needed, following the recent announcement by the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps).

Governor Ron DeSantis

Although algal bloom conditions on Lake Okeechobee have improved in recent weeks and there is no concerning presence of an algal bloom on the lake near discharge structures, Governor DeSantis has directed DEP and SFWMD to be ready to respond to protect South Florida estuaries and communities.

“Harmful algal blooms have a debilitating effect on our ecosystems and our communities,” said Governor DeSantis. “That is why, for the first time, I made it a priority to secure dedicated funding to deploy innovative technology to mitigate blue-green algae blooms. I will continue to advocate for better management of Lake Okeechobee and the resources needed to bolster our natural resource protection efforts. Our economy and way of life depend on it.”

As a result of Governor DeSantis’ advocacy, $10 million was appropriated in Fiscal Year 2019-20 specifically for innovative technologies to combat and clean up harmful algal blooms. DEP’s Office of Water Policy and Ecosystem Project’s Innovative Grant Program (IGP) facilitated the allocation of this funding following recommendations made by DEP’s Blue-Green Algae Task Force. The recommendations included an investment in a diverse portfolio of technologies to prevent, detect and address harmful algal blooms in a cost-effective, environmentally safe and scalable fashion. To continue this investment, $10 million was appropriated for additional projects in the Fiscal Year 2020-2021 Budget.

One of grants that has been awarded through the IGP is for $1.7 million to St. Johns River Water Management District to evaluate the application of Lake Guard Oxy Technology (a hydrogen peroxide based algicide) to prevent algal bloom formation in Lake Minneola. Lake Guard Oxy is a proprietary innovative algicide developed by BlueGreen US Waters Technology, Inc. and was demonstrated during the Governor’s Trade Mission to Israel in 2019. This will be the first of its kind to be tested in Florida. It will be used to illustrate how hydrogen peroxide can repress harmful algal growth and induce the succession of phytoplankton communities from a harmful to non-harmful state. This technology could be deployed along the C-44 Canal, if algae mitigation is needed to protect the St. Lucie Estuary as a result of harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee.

“The Corps decision to begin discharges is disappointing, but under the Governor’s leadership, the state remains committed to leveraging every possible resource towards studying and understanding algal blooms so we can prevent harmful algal blooms from disrupting our ecosystems and communities,” said DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein. “Innovative technologies are a component of our multi-faceted approach to protecting water quality in Florida.”

“I’m grateful to Governor DeSantis for his leadership to improve water quality across Florida and reduce harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the northern estuaries,” said SFWMD Chairman Chauncey Goss. “Thanks to the Governor’s investments in our environment, our partnership with DEP is ready to bring innovative technologies and other immediate solutions to protecting our water resources in South Florida while we expedite critical restoration projects like the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir Project."

“This action is a direct result of recommendations made by the Governor’s Blue-Green Algae Task Force. Although the task force emphasized the importance of preventative measures, they recommended clearly that DEP invest in a broad suite of technologies including those capable of reducing the abundance of algae and toxins they produce,” said Chief Science Officer Dr. Tom Frazer. “The application of the proprietary algaecide to release water coming from Lake Okeechobee holds a great deal of promise and we are prepared to evaluate the efficacy of the technology to help guide future mitigation efforts around the state.”

Over the past two years, Governor DeSantis has been laser-focused on promoting water management that improves water quality, supports beneficial vegetation growth and ecosystem responses, and provides flood protection and water supply. Specifically with regard to Everglades restoration, under the Governor’s direction, the state has been leading the effort to expedite critical Everglades restoration infrastructure including work on the Central Everglades Planning Project and EAA Reservoir, the Caloosahatchee and C-44 Reservoirs, and raising the Tamiami Trail. Historic federal funding for Everglades restoration by President Trump, combined with more than $625 million per year in state funding secured by Governor DeSantis for Everglades restoration and statewide water quality investments, have provided unprecedented momentum for important water projects.

Unfortunately, all of these efforts cannot guarantee an end to devastating releases from Lake Okeechobee. More flexible water management policies by the Corps and significant increases in large-scale water infrastructure and storage are critical elements to minimizing the risk of future detrimental discharges.