For the past several years, there has been a thick, foul-smelling, blue-green algae bloom in the Harbor Isle Lake (which in fact, is not a natural lake at all, but a dredge pond created by the original developer). Years of pollution from the reclaimed water in our sprinkler systems, as well as lawn fertilizer runoff, have resulted in this persistent bloom, and it has threatened the health and well-being of the Harbor Isle residents, particularly those living on the lake.
One day my neighbor, Tyler, invited me to a meeting with the city council to determine the future course of action and to try and obtain funding to assist in the cleanup of the lake. I happened to have a friend on the city council, so he felt that I could be of use in this situation. I gladly volunteered to attend with him. As I sat in the meeting and listened to the city engineers repeatedly say that the only option was heavy use of herbicides to kill the algae on our 22-acre lake, a nagging feeling kept telling me that there must be another way – a safer way to accomplish this.
Later after the meeting, I began reflecting on the possible long-term effects of herbicide use on our lake. Solving complex environmental problems with chemical treatments never seemed to produce any long-term benefits. That night I was watching a commercial on TV by an attorney group stating that if you have been exposed to Roundup and had Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, please call this number. I had no real idea what chemicals they were planning to use in this treatment. Was Roundup one of them?
An additional problem was the existing communication between the lake and Tampa Bay, which was approximately 100 yards from the Weedon Island public boat ramp. Whatever was dumped into the lake could, potentially, seep into the bay near this boat ramp. Also, manatees were frequent visitors to the inlet adjacent to the lake, and I was concerned about their exposure to these herbicides, as well. The Save the Manatee Club shared my concerns, but unfortunately, they could be of no assistance unless the herbicides were being dumped directly into the bay. Over time, these issues began to greatly concern me. I decided to try and obtain the city permit to see exactly which chemicals were listed and research the human and natural side effects. The city, however, was unwilling to share this information, and a date for the herbicide spraying of the lake had already been set.
A week before the herbicide treatment, the city posted notices on the doors of all the neighbors living on the lake informing them of a dangerous, toxic herbicide spraying that was scheduled to take place. This notice forced me into taking further action. I decided to drive to Weedon Island Preserve and notify someone of the potential leak of these chemicals to their public boat ramp. I walked into the Nature Museum and informed the clerk behind the desk. This news was so upsetting to her that she immediately called the park ranger. I spoke to him about my concern for the public safety of the kayakers in Tampa Bay who were launching their boats off that ramp everyday. As I drove home from Weedon Island, my cell phone rang. It was the city engineer agreeing to fax me the permit with the chemicals they planned to use. I immediately took this permit to my neighbor, Kathleen, who is an environmental attorney. She spent the majority of that night researching human, animal and aquatic side effects of all the herbicides on that list, including Roundup. The results of her searches were deeply disturbing. Kathleen was able to file an injunction, or notice to the city, in an attempt to stop the herbicide spraying. The next morning, she waited, camera-in-hand, at the entrance to the lake to witness and photograph the herbicide spraying as it was happening. The injunction seemed to have worked, as no herbicide trucks or city workers showed up. However, within an hour, a truck of city workers with Water Resources approached the fire hydrant directly across the street from the lake. When I asked what they were doing, they informed me that the fire hydrant and adjacent water pipe needed to be replaced. I asked them, “Did you know that herbicides were scheduled to be sprayed in the lake at the same time just 30 feet from where the water supply was now opened to the air?” They said “No, we have no knowledge of that. That is a separate department.” I went home relieved that the herbicide spray had not happened but also with disbelief that it could have occurred simultaneously with our drinking water supply wide open. A portion of the road had been dug up for this task, and every time I drive over that bump in the road I am reminded of the disaster that could have occurred that day.
Nevertheless, we were still left with the huge problem of thick blue-green algae contaminating our lake, and it needed to be taken of. That very evening one of my neighbors, Tim, was out walking his dog and I was lamenting to him about what to do with the blue-green algae in the lake. He worked in sales and informed me that there was a new nanotechnology microbubble system being used to break down algae cell walls and destroy algae blooms. This was going to be used experimentally in multiple lakes around Florida, including, potentially Lake Okeechobee. I could not believe my ears. I contacted the Harbor Isle homeowner president, Tyler, informing him of the new technology and gave him the company name. To the city’s great credit, they had not only stopped the herbicide spray, but were also very amenable to using the new nanotechnology. Subsequently, they hired SOLitude Lake Management, a “green” company with expertise in using nanotechnology microbubble systems and environmentally friendly technology to destroy algae blooms. This company has done an outstanding job in fighting the algae bloom to the best of their ability. Although the 22-acre lake is larger than the usual lakes that they have successfully treated, the return of migratory ducks, fish, otters and recently an alligator, are all signs that the lake is trending in the right direction. Again, I give credit to SOLitude Lake Management and the city of St. Petersburg for their willingness to be open to new technologies and green solutions for these chronic environmental problems. Although the underlying issue of the use of reclaimed water in our sprinkler systems still remains, I am hopeful that in the future, the de-nitrification of treated sewage for the reclaimed water will help to alleviate these algae blooms altogether.
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