In the first comprehensive review of its kind, the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), based at Tufts University, has released a white paper entitled Valuing Florida's Clean Waters. The paper finds that algae and red tide outbreaks caused by water pollution cost Floridians between $1.3 billion and $10.5 billion each year.
Lesley Gamble paddles through green slime outbreak on the Santa Fe River on May 22, 2012. (John Moran.)
View photo slideshow of algae outbreaks.
The EPA will soon decide whether to accept a state-written water pollution plan (which clean water advocates say won’t do the job) or to step in with stronger federal rules and enforcement.
SEI researchers compiled data from dozens of studies and assessments to come up with the valuation of environmental services provided by clean water for Florida.
Among the findings of “Valuing Florida's Clean Waters”:
- Clean water directly consumed by humans, wildlife, and agricultural operations generates more than $7 billion in value each year for Florida.
- Clean freshwater and marine ecosystems attract more than $67 billion in tourism and recreational spending each year in Florida.
- Clean marine and coastal water provide habitat and recreational opportunities including a significant fishing industry which adds $4.3 billion to Florida's economy, annually.
- The Florida Department of Environmental Protection had assessed just 20 percent of the river miles in the state and found 53 percent had pollution-related impairment.
- FDEP assessed 54 percent of lake and reservoir acres and found 82 percent had pollution-related impairments.
- Florida's springs have dangerously high levels of nitrates. The iconic Silver Springs has reached a nitrate level 1,000 times normal levels and is still rising. Florida's springs and groundwater are being polluted by inadequately treated sewage, manure, and fertilizer.
- Harmful algae outbreaks can have dramatic impacts on water-centric and tourist destinations. Even one harmful algae outbreak may very well cause visitors to avoid a region, or even the state of Florida as a whole.
According to the Stockholm Environmental Institute:
“The scientific community is now clear that pollution is a primary cause of harmful algae outbreaks. What remains is for federal and state agencies to set, and fund, an agenda for gathering the underlying data needed to comprehensively assess the value of Florida's clean waters.”
David Guest, managing attorney at Earthjustice who has represented the Florida Water Coalition in numerous legal battles to enforce the federal Clean Water Act in Florida said, “Slime and red tide are costing Floridians up to $10 billion a year. The government needs to stop polluters from using rivers and lakes as their private sewers.”
Florida Today reported that an algae outbreak in the Indian River Lagoon cost the region's economy up to $10,000 for every acre of seagrass it smothered. During a seven-month outbreak last year, an estimated 31,600 acres of seagrass were destroyed, and the area's sport and commercial fishing industry lost up to $316 million.
Federal Action Needed
The Florida Water Coalition strongly supports the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed numeric nutrient criteria regulations for Florida, and opposes the numeric nutrient standards currently proposed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection that are under review by EPA. The purpose behind developing and implementing these criteria is to protect non-impaired waters and restore impaired water-bodies. EPA’s standards would do that and would prevent severe water quality degradation from nutrient pollution.
The SEI US Center draws upon engineering, economics, ecology, ethics, operations research, international relations and software design. It conducts applied scientific research: bringing the best available science to policy makers. http://www.sei-international.org/us/about-sei-us
The Florida Water Coalition is made up of Earthjustice, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Florida Wildlife Federation and St. John's Riverkeeper. For more information about the risk posed by harmful algae outbreaks, please visit: http://www.floridawatercoalition.org