The Lake Okeechobee Protection Act of 2000 and the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program require the South Florida Water Management District, Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Florida Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services (FDACS) to develop and update a plan to restore Lake Okeechobee.
As a first step to reducing pollution and potential toxic algae blooms in the lake, a Total Maximum Daily Load of phosphorus was established in 2001 with the goal of meeting this standard by January 1, 2015.
The deadline has since passed with no new deadline set, and the phosphorus load to the lake is still more than three times the Total Maximum Daily Load. In December 2014, the Lake Okeechobee Basin Management Action Plan was developed by Florida Department of Environmental Protection with the goal of reducing phosphorus loads to the lake by 43% over the next 10 years.
Unchecked FDACS Best Management Practices
The Basin Management Action Plan relies largely on agricultural best management practices (BMPs), a program whereby landowners agree to take a series of actions to reduce their phosphorus runoff into waterbodies. However, current BMPs are inefficient with minimal implementation assurance and alone are unable to reduce phosphorus loads to reach the Total Maximum Daily Load.
Upon filing a notice of intent to implement a best management practice, Florida provides a presumption of compliance with state water quality standards even if no action is taken. Additionally, the Basin Management Action Plan is assuming 100% implementation of FDACS BMPs, which would only achieve less than 15% of the phosphorus reduction needed to reach the pollution limits set in the Total Maximum Daily Load.
What About Nitrogen?
The pollution control programs in the Lake Okeechobee Basin Management Action Plan focus primarily on phosphorus, while nitrogen pollution can also trigger toxic algae blooms in our estuaries and coastal waters, resulting in widespread economic and environmental impacts. Since 2000, nitrogen loads into the lake have increased steadily by 250 percent, and in addition to local watershed sources of nitrogen, lake discharges of nitrogen and phosphorus combined pose a serious threat to the health of the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.
- Implement viable and effective projects targeting phosphorus and nitrogen pollution.
- Enforce and strengthen the efficiency of BMPs while targeting areas of greatest potential impact.
- Include nitrogen pollution controls in the Lake Okeechobee Basin Management Action Plan.