Boaters, anglers and swimmers heading to the spring-fed Santa Fe River near Gainesville for the Memorial Day weekend are in for a rude surprise—pollution from sewage, manure and fertilizer has sparked an outbreak of nasty green slime. Local health authorities are recommending that no one swim, fish, or drink water near the outbreak.
Lesley Gamble paddles through green slime outbreak on the Santa Fe River on May 22, 2012. Photo by John Moran.
Locals say they’ve never seen algae as bad as this sliming the river. Last weekend, boaters witnessed water that looked like thick, fluorescent green pea soup near Poe Springs, a county park. The Santa Fe is normally a tannic river, with world-class springs and a river bottom filled with limestone and sand. It is a wildlife haven, with fish, turtles, manatees, and a wide array of birds.
“This green slime is disastrous for tourism, especially on a holiday weekend. This is a health threat and people want it cleaned up,” said Earthjustice attorney David Guest. “We’re tired of the state making excuse after excuse for politically powerful industries. All we hear from environmental authorities is more and more delay—they need to go look at what’s happening right now."
“We need enforceable limits set for sewage, manure and fertilizer to prevent this from happening. Instead, all we get is foot-dragging from leaders who should be concerned about the jobs and revenue we get from tourism.”
“We hope this isn’t the face of things to come all summer in Florida, but we fear it is,” said Florida Wildlife Federation president Manley Fuller. “We have green slime in Southwest Florida, too, right now, on the Caloosahatchee River near the popular tourist beaches at Sanibel Island and Fort Myers.”
A drinking water plant on the Caloosahatchee that serves 30,000 people has been shut down due to the pollution.
Lee County’s health department had to issue a warning for people not to have contact with natural waters in the county, and to keep their pets and livestock away, too.
“This is heartbreaking for people and for wildlife,” Fuller said. “It’s a full-blown crisis like we’ve never seen before on the beautiful Santa Fe River.”
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. To learn more, visit the Florida Water Coalition’s website at FloridaWaterCoalition.org.
So far, 34,000 people have written to President Barack Obama in the past two months, asking for enforceable limits on sewage, fertilizer and manure pollution in our public waters. The letters and emails are a response to a grassroots call for action by several environmental groups.