The Governing Board for the South Florida Water Management District voted unanimously to start a research program that will prevent excess storm water from harming the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers and estuaries.

“We’re looking at trying to capture the water before it gets into the lake so we can maintain the level of Lake Okeechobee to not have as many harmful discharges,” said Bob Verasstro, Lead Hydrogeologist for the Water Management District. He continued, “when the high discharge events occur it becomes harmful to the life in the estuary environment when there’s too much fresh water for a long period of time so we’re trying to reduce the number of time the lake we have to do that with the lake.”

That’s a concern of Mayor Troy McDonald, the mayor of the City of Stuart. He said last year, the toxic algae blooms devastated their tourism and their economy.

“When we get the rain during the summertime we’re concerned about the discharges and with the discharges comes the fresh water comes the phosphors and the nitrogen that’s coming in from lake Okeechobee and then comes the algae bloom,” said Mayor McDonald.

Verrastro said algae is a complicated phenomenon.

“But as long as we can control water levels within the lake we’re going to be looking for a better lake ecology to prevent those high lake levels from occurring so the lake ecology should certainly benefit from it,” said Verrastro.

Verrastro is hoping the deep injection wells will be the solution.

Mayor McDonald is happy the water management district is working to prevent the discharges, but also wants them to be cautious.

He said, “I don’t want a situation where we have unattended consequences later.”

Verrastro said they plan on taking the project slow, putting in one well at a time.

“Test and evaluate the success of the technology before we would do any more exploration of systems,” said Verrastro.

They have to go back to the governing board in September and present them with the plan for the injection wells. He said, “that would plan would involve citing the wells and doing some modeling to try and understand what would be the best way that they would be operated and then look at costs and schedule for when wells like that would be built.”

They hope to get many up and running within the next couple of years.

Right now, they have several projects already working to help the water supply.

“In the Kissimmee River getting down towards Lake Okeechobee and then part of Lake Okeechobee watershed project. We’re also looking at restoring wetlands that will clean the water naturally as well as clean the water in reservoirs also before it gets to the lake,” said Verrastro.

As for Stuart, Mayor McDonald said they have done their part.

“The City of Stuart has a long history on solving the problems of the river. For the last 15 years, we’ve had several water shed projects where we’ve done everything we can to ensure the storm water going in is clean prior before it returns to the river,” said Mayor McDonald. He continued, “we’re getting ready to bring on a line of wet land restoration of the heart of Haney creek. All of these efforts have been designed to produce clean water for our river. We’ve spent about $19 million in the last 15-20 years on these water quality project.”

CBS 12 reached out to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and they released the following statement.

Algal Bloom Reporting, Monitoring and Response:

To ensure the health and safety of our state’s residents and visitors, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is committed to keeping Floridians updated on current algal blooms and how the state is responding to protect human health, water quality and the environment.

The department takes all algal blooms seriously and will continue to coordinate with other federal, state and local government agencies to respond as quickly and efficiently as possible to both observed and reported algal blooms to ensure the health and safety of Floridians, visitors and our natural resources.

DEP and Florida’s water management districts frequently monitor Florida’s water quality, and routinely collect algal bloom samples as soon as they are observed as part of this effort. In addition, staff can be deployed to take additional samples in response to reported blooms – whether from a citizen, other response team agencies or other sources.

Florida has a robust system in place for keeping residents and visitors informed regarding algal bloom monitoring and response efforts.

To keep residents and visitors informed, DEP has a website where it posts the dates and locations of samples collected. Test results are added as they become available.

To make it easier for residents and visitors to report algal blooms, last year DEP launched a toll-free hotline (855-305-3903) and online system for reporting algal blooms.

General algal bloom information:

Although blue-green algae are found naturally, increases in nutrients can exacerbate the extent, duration and intensity of blooms. Other factors that contribute to blooms include warm temperatures, reduced water flow and lack of animals that eat algae. Although they can occur at any time, blue-green algae are most common in Florida during the summer and early fall, with high temperatures and abundant sunlight. The summer also brings storms that have the potential to deliver nutrients into waterways through stormwater runoff.

The nature of most freshwater algal bloom events makes it difficult to predict where and when a bloom will occur or how long it will last. However, lessening the negative effects of algal blooms is possible through restoration work to improve water quality by reducing nutrients. Because reducing nitrogen and phosphorous levels can help decrease the intensity and duration of algal blooms, in addition to algal bloom monitoring and response to ensure the health and safety of Floridians, visitors, and our natural resources, DEP is actively working with local governments to identify and implement restoration projects and strategies to improve water quality. Examples of projects and strategies in the Lake O, Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Estuary include wastewater and stormwater projects, land acquisition for hydrologic restoration, fertilizer ordinances and best management practices.