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Op-Ed by Ralph Massullo | Citrus County Chronicle

Growing up, we all had ideas of what we wanted to become. Some of us wanted to be astronauts, some chefs, some nurses, some scientists, some carpenters, some policemen, some artists, some moms and some dads. We would proudly give an account of our desires to anyone who happened to ask because we thought our ideas were “cool.”

Being “cool” is fashionable, happening, chic, hip and, as they say today, phat. Most all of us want to be “cool” and be associated with the “cool” because of the value our society and culture places on the concept. We tend to prioritize the “cool” of life and work diligently, even at times unconsciously, to promote and preserve it.

This year’s theme for Save Our Waters Week (SOWW), “Clean Water is Cool,” is brilliant. If we can associate clean water as being “cool,” we’ll desire it more and take the necessary difficult steps to make it clean and keep it so.

Most all of us are well aware that water is the most precious natural resource we have in Florida. Without it, none of us could physically survive nor could our economy. With Florida’s over 20 million citizens, approximately 100 million annual visitors and its industries and farms, we collectively are using nearly 1 trillion gallons of mostly potable water annually with use trending upward.

If we do not take the necessary steps now to restore and preserve our water supply there will be a significant risk for major shortages in the next 30 years. Not to mention the fact that our tourism is so integrally tied to clean water in our streams, lakes, rivers and beaches. As such, we could lose billions of revenue dollars and massively decrease our $920 billion gross domestic product (GDP) if we don’t make the required investments in time, energy, dollars and effort now.

Recently, the news is replete with articles about toxic algae blooms coming from Lake Okeechobee. Gov. Scott has declared a state of emergency in portions of the state affected and asked for federal funds to help mitigate the problem. There is some debate as to why the problem exists between those that believe septic runoff and high nitrogen rich fertilizers are the primary culprits and those who believe the lake discharge into other water bodies of varying saliently (salt concentration) are causative.

Be that as it may, algae cannot flourish without a high nitrogen rich environment as would be found where septic runoff and rapid release fertilizer use are present. Besides clouding, darkening and polluting the water with a toxic, smelly slime, the algae in darkness depletes oxygen thereby limiting its availability to fish and native plants that other animals depend on for food — including us!

As the algae die and create a thick dark muck on the water’s bottom, they also interfere with the conversion of nitrates by certain bacteria. The Lyngbya algae in our own Crystal and Homosassa rivers behave similarly. That is why it is so important that we not only work to remove them and restore the natural habitat, but also take steps to prevent any further recurrences. Without a comprehensive plan that addresses both facets of the problem, we will not be successful in obtaining our long term goal of sustainable clean water in our community and state. Without effective preventive measures, all our clean up and restorative efforts will be for naught.

Our legislature is taking steps to protect our water resources.

Florida Senate Bill 522, which became effective this July, is a great start in solving our water issues, but we need to do more in a wise and reasonable fashion that allows for controlled growth while protecting our environment. We need to invest in ways to decrease the amount of nitrogen creeping, and sometimes flowing, into our water sources.

This will require upgrading septic systems and, where practical, expanding more centralized sewer services, developing new techniques in fertilization using less nitrogen and controlling run off. We should also encourage the use of slower release fertilizers and berms on properties abutting water bodies.

Partnering with the agriculture industry in best use practices has proven effective in water management and perhaps similar applications can be made with fertilization as well. Better storm water management and waste water reclamation techniques also need to be developed and implemented.

None of these measures are simple tasks and they will require arduous efforts and sacrifices from all of us. However, if we want to be “cool” and have clean water that the rest of world will envy, they are essential.

Remember we aren’t just making Florida better for ourselves; we are creating a better Florida for future generations. Like it or not, that awesome responsibility has fallen to us. How “cool” is that?

Ralph Massullo has degrees in Medicine and Industrial Engineering. He is founder and president of Suncoast Dermatology and Skin Surgery Center and is the representative-elect for the Florida House of Representatives, District 34. 

Article last accessed here on April 30, 2018.