“Stop the water releases from Lake Okeechobee!” is being cried out by many residents and visitors to southwest Florida this summer due to the extensive blue green algae bloom. If only it were that simple.
The human induced changes to the water resources of southwest Florida began in earnest with the dredging of the Caloosahatchee to straighten and deepen this river in the 1800s (find history timeline here). Over the next century, additional dredging of tributaries occurred combined with construction of canals, ditches, draining wetlands, and filling wetlands. These “improvements” were to facilitate agricultural operations, commerce, flood control, and the growing population.
The natural world is an amazing complex system which can provide the human entity of this system with valuable resources to live and grow. We must be cognizant of humans as a part of the natural world. We alter and consume. We recreate and relax. All within the natural world.
Here are a few ways we, as individuals, can help improve the quality and quantity of freshwater resources:
- Pick up your pet’s poop! (Third on the list of water contaminants)
- Harvest rainwater from your roof for use in watering lawns and gardens
- Reduce sod cover of grasses that require regular watering and fertilizing with plant beds of native vegetation and/or grasses that are drought tolerant (you will have to adjust to not having a lush green lawn during the dry season)
- Set your irrigation system to water at night and limit the days and hours used
- Set your lawn mower at 3-inch height
- Allow grass clippings to fall into your lawn (they provide nutrients and reduce the need for fertilizing)
- Don’t fertilize within 10-feet of any waterway, natural or man-made (remember most man-made water features are connected to natural waterways in southwest Florida as part of a storm water management system)
- Don’t fertilize during the wet season (June through September)
- Don’t allow grass clippings or yard waste to be deposited in any waterway, natural or man-made
- If you use a landscape company, set the parameters for working on your yard (items 5-8)
- If you wash your car at home, do it over the lawn, not on the driveway
On the larger scale, we have to ask ourselves what are we willing to do as a community to improve and protect our water resources. Which of these items would you support?
- Purchasing, restoring and managing public conservation lands
- Paying farmers to hold water on their land during the wet season
- Restoring rivers and streams to reverse the dredging (i.e. reconstruct bends and riverine wetlands, similar to the Kissimmee River )
- Remove the dike around Lake Okeechobee which will require relocating people from the towns the dike currently protects
- Filling canals to create wetlands
- Replacing old septic tanks with newer, more effective septic tanks
- Removing septic tanks and connecting to a public sewer system
- Reconfiguring existing ditches to enhance water storage and water quality
The large scale management of water resources is expensive and difficult decisions will need to be made. We need to stay informed and participate in the decision making process. It’s so much more than just stopping or limiting the water releases from Lake Okeechobee.