FILE - algae bloom

The state’s Blue-Green Algae Task Force met in Gainesville just days after Florida Fish & Wildlife Research Institute biologists reported red tide had been detected in the Gulf of Mexico off Collier County.

Although the panel was appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in January to study algae blooms spawned by Lake Okeechobee runoff into river systems, not red tide – lawmakers created a 10-member committee in 2019 to do that – the report, nevertheless, was a sobering reminder that the state must address algal blooms as a recurring reality, not as an emergency event.

The Blue-Green Algae Task Force has been discussing policy initiatives to achieve that at public hearings across the state, including Monday in Gainesville. It is expected to present recommendations related to stormwater, septic tanks and toxicology research to lawmakers when they convene in January.

Task force recommendations are expected to include expanding restrictions on new septic tanks, imposing more intensive standards for monitoring agriculture runoff in groundwater and finding new investments in water quality solutions.

Scientists say warming water temperatures and excessive nitrogen in runoff from residential and agricultural areas is fueling algae blooms, like those in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers in 2018.

The task force is expected to suggest ways to better integrate communications through Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs), establish better procedures on the clean-up and storage of algae slurries and to diagram a more intensive monitoring process for wastewater spills.

Among the most significant is a draft recommendation to require the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to inspect and approve septic tanks.

About 12 percent of septic tanks installed nationwide over the last decade are in Florida, according to the task force, and faulty septic systems are significant contributors to high nitrogen content in bloom-prone waters.

Among other task force proposals is a request to identify and catalogue factors contributing to algae outbreaks, including agricultural operations, wastewater treatment plants, onsite sewage disposal systems and urban storm water runoff.

An Oct. 5 Florida Fish & Wildlife Research Institute status update underlined the urgency for the state’s network of advisory panels and task forces to develop algae bloom policy initiatives quickly when it documented the presence of red tide in waters off Collier County.

The institute’s red tide status report did not document red tide algae in water samples taken off Charlotte, Sarasota and Manatee counties, but on Monday reported fish kills on Collier and Lee county beaches.

The National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported this week two “patches” of red tide lingering off Sanibel Island in Sarasota County and off Naples.

"We have received reports of dead fish for several locations in Collier County including Barefoot Beach, Naples Bay near the Gordon River and by the Naples Pier," Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission spokeswoman Kelly Richmond told the Fort Myers News-Press on Monday. "Mullet appeared to be the most affected species but other unidentified fish have also been reported dead."

The emergence is the first red tide indication since February when a 15-month red tide outbreak diminished after devastating the Southwest Florida coast, causing billions in estimated economic losses.