In the wake of last summer’s worst blue-green algae outbreak in Florida’s history, water management continues to be at the forefront of conversation in Florida. Now the state’s newly founded Blue-Green Algae Task Force has convened it’s first meeting.
The task force is made up of scientists and researchers from around the state. It’s focused on reducing blue-green algae outbreaks predominantly found in freshwater systems. The algae is a form of bacteria which can affect aquatic life and have researchers looking into possible public health issues. Blue-green algae blooms have been linked to liver and nervous system complications. Though the bacteria is naturally occurring, conditions are exacerbated with nutrient run off from agriculture and sceptic tanks along with increased sunlight. The group is led by the Chief Science Officer Dr. Thomas Frazer and he says his committee is looking to move quickly.
"We know that we have a very aggressive timeline because we have dollars that are available to us. We have to implement projects in a thoughtful manner moving forward within a one year time frame,” said Frazer.
Frazer’s long term goals include looking at different scientific approaches to the blue-green algae issue.
“As we look further down the road are there scientific gaps? Are there different types of projects that we could do? How many of these different categories of projects should we monitor to make sure that they’re working the way that they’re intended to," said Frazer.
Researchers believe nutrient run off from agriculture and sceptic tanks are major culprits that add to the intensity of algae outbreaks. Frazer says his committee will keep all options on the table when it comes to advising on safe water management practices, including proposing regulations.
“If we need to do more monitoring for example to evaluate the effectiveness of various projects, we should probably be doing that. If we need to look at a regulation and change that regulation so there is more oversight, people are more accountable that’s on the table as well,” said Frazer.
New blooms have recently been found in Lake Okeechobee and are sparking concern among residents and scientists. The Army Corps of Engineers has started draining the lake to prevent an outbreak but the move is being criticized by environmentalists who say that could make the bloom spread downstream. Frazer is hopeful his committee will provide the necessary leadership to prevent another intense algae bloom outbreak.
“We’re here to make a difference and we're going to use this committee to identify areas where we can insert science to make better decisions with how we allocate our resources, so that we in fact can get the most bang for our buck. If we’re going to invest in a project to help clean up nutrients that are impairing water quality we're going to do that in a more efficient way,” said Frazer.