As warmer weather, increased flooding, and the continued use of nutrient-laden fertilizers all combine to drive harmful algal bloom in source water this season, a major project in Florida is exploring an innovative solution to the problem.
“The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has launched a new project to remove invasive aquatic plants and evaluate nutrients removed to improve water quality in Lake Okeechobee,” WUSF reported. “Mechanical harvesters will be used to collect invasive floating plants … and the plants will then be processed into a slurry or semi-liquid mixture. The slurry of plants will be pumped to nearby hayfields to enhance the soil.”
By harvesting the invasive weeds and then utilizing them to feed local crops, the project is addressing the issue of nutrient contamination on several fronts — removing nutrient-laden organics from the source water and potentially reducing the need for nitrogen- and phosphorus-based agricultural fertilizers, which can be washed into the lake.
And the solution is much needed at Lake Okeechobee, as well as in many other source water bodies around the country.
“A recent study linked nutrient-rich runoff from Lake Okeechobee to worsening red tide blooms off Florida’s west coast,” according to WFLA. “When the lake gets too full, polluted water is discharged into rivers that flow into the Gulf and Atlantic. The nutrients in the water help feed the harmful algae blooms.”
But even though this new project seems like it will produce multiple benefits, FWC has been quick to point out that it might not be ideal for every other source body experiencing algae problems.
“The FWC uses a variety of techniques, including biological controls, mechanical removal and herbicide treatments to manage invasive aquatic plants in Florida,” per WUSF. “An integrative pest management approach using a combination of techniques often achieves the greatest results in managing invasive plants.”
While it remains to be seen how effective the project is in Florida, or whether it can be leveraged in any other water systems, consumers far and wide will be relieved to know that excessive nutrients are being removed from their beloved source water bodies.