Toxic Algae Rose While Florida Cut Back on Water Quality Monitoring
By Jenny Staletovich
When Florida Sea Grant director Karl Havens, who is a well-regarded expert on water and has studied pollution all over the world, began hearing about a deepening algae bloom in his own backyard in Lake Okeechobee this summer, he struggled to find information that could tell him what was going on.
State scientists sample water in the lake, but too infrequently to track rapidly evolving algae blooms. Instead, Havens had to rely on satellite images that were taken on sunny days when clouds don’t get in the way.
“No one is out on the lake collecting water samples of the bloom,” he said last month. “We’re flying blind.”
Over the last decade, as the state fought federal efforts to protect water, shrunk its own environmental and water-management agencies, and cut funding to an algae task force, monitoring for water quality has plummeted. While one crisis after another hit Florida, state and federal funding that paid for a massive coastal network with nearly three decades of information dwindled from about 350 stations to 115, according to Florida International University’s Southeast Environmental Research Center.