Florida Algae Bloom Feeding On The ‘Who’s Responsible’ Debate?

For years, Florida has been known for being one of the world’s best destinations for people looking to spend their holidays on sunny beaches. While Florida’s iconic city, Miami, continues to shine, some parts of the state have been getting a different kind of attention over the last few months. Large sections of once clear waters of Florida are now covered with a wide mass of blue-green algae.

The worst affected areas of the coastal state can be found in the southern region where algae continue to bloom. This unwanted type of green has now sparked debate regarding its cause and the potential solutions to the menace.

The blame has been pinned on a multitude of factors. Residents that use septic tanks for waste disposal appear to be taking the larger share, while farmers, industrial plants, and golf course owners have also been mentioned. As the debate continues, there are currently no clear action steps towards a conclusive solution.


The debate has focused on two major talking points with regard to what could be fueling algae bloom on Florida’s coastline. One argument that’s being floated is that the water released from Lake Okeechobee in the name of flood control, in billions of gallons, is loaded with nitrates from farms, residential yards, and over development in general, and is what is feeding the growth of algae along the coastline of south Florida.

The other argument, which also happens to be the one that the governor of Florida, Rick Scott, appears to believe, is that nitrogen released from millions of septic tanks has helped the manifestation of this man-made crisis.

He may be right because based on how septic tanks operate, it is possible that some of the algae-causing chemicals find their way to the shores. According to Septicleanse, the wastewater from the septic tank passes through a “leach field of perforated pipes” and into the soil, where it is absorbed naturally. This means that through natural drainage, chemicals from the waste water could eventually make their way to the coastline.

Nevertheless, the people on the ground tend to believe that it’s a combination of both arguments that have been fueling the algae bloom in South Florida.

While expressing his opinion via Jacksonville.com, Ron Littlepage described the debate on algae growth in Florida as a silly argument adding that “the answer is both.”

Jacksonville is believed to have estimated 55,000-60,000 septic tanks, which Littlepage believes could significantly be reduced by spending $300 million in extending water and sewer lines. However, this process will not be easy.

Currently, about one-third of Florida residents use septic tanks for wastewater and sewerage disposal. Half of that number may actually need to be replaced because the septic tanks are either out of order or have already exceeded their lifespan, which is estimated to be 30 years.

This means that it won’t be easy to identify all those tanks that might require septic tank replacement before “all hell breaks loose.” Therefore, one of the best causes of action, according to septic tank experts, would be to ensure that the tanks are well-maintained and cleaned regularly.

According to HomeAdvisor, the average cost of septic tank pumping and cleaning is estimated at $376. This figure aligns with what Septi Cleanse describes as the heavy shock six-month maintenance treatment, which costs roughly $359. Basically what this means is that after cleaning your septic tank for $359, you can forget about it for a period of six months. That sounds affordable.

In 2010, a bill that required septic tanks to be inspected every five years was approved. However, it was never really implemented — Littlepage wrote on Jacksonville.com. The following year, that bill was thrown away and never to be remembered, and today, some septic tanks are in deplorable conditions. Could a five-year inspection cycle have helped the current situation? Probably, but now, we will never know.

However, the fact is that within the last five years, all septic tanks five years or older would have been inspected, most would have been recommended for replacement while others might have required a general maintenance.

But what about the golf courses, the farms, and other industrial drainage systems whose waste still finds a way to the coastline? In simple terms, everyone will need to take responsibility and adhere to the required waste management policies.

All of this means that if you have a septic tank, you must make sure that it’s regularly cleaned to avoid leaking algae-causing chemicals into the soil. Otherwise, more problems will only create room for continuous debates and arguments while the algae bloom in South Florida continues to expand its territories.

The potential solutions to the algae bloom are pretty clear, but the debate on who is responsible appears to have become the main talking point. Governor Rick Scott has come up with a plan in which the government contributes 50 percent of the required money to replace damaged septic tanks while local communities affected by the algae manifestation top up the remaining 50 percent.

Still, there are those who do not believe that the government is doing enough to reverse the tide of algae bloom in South Florida. The best place to start would be putting a legislative process in motion to come up with preventive measures — because replacing a few septic tanks won’t be a lasting solution. Maybe that 2010 bill would have saved the day after all.

[Photo by Terry Spencer/AP Images]