Ralph Massullo: Special to the Chronicle

Throughout the years, I have had the opportunity to speak with many Citrus County natives. It’s enlightening to hear their perspective on how things have changed and their vision for the future of our community. We often talk about how just a few decades ago the rivers were crystal clear — and wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could be that way again.

Well, fortunately, they are getting better and it is directly a result of the combined efforts from the community and our state and local governments working in tandem to improve our water quality, protect our springs and ensure that we can keep Citrus County waters beautiful for generations.

We need to applaud the efforts of Art Jones and the volunteers of One Rake at a Time, Save Crystal River Inc., our schools and the Marine Science Station, the Chronicle for raising awareness of our ecological issues, our county commission, our city governments and the state of Florida for providing millions of dollars to help aid in cleaning up our waterways. We are making good progress, but for it to continue we all need to stay engaged.

In order to continue to combat the issues we are having with our water, we need to have a good understanding of the variables causing them. Walt Kelly, a cartoonist, coined a now famous quote underneath a poster to promote Earth Day and environmental stewardship on April 22, 1970: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” We need to take a good look in the mirror and realize much of what is happening to our waters is a direct result of how we live our lives.

My Italian mother always had a way with words and a unique ability to throw shoes at you from around the corner when you weren’t paying attention. She often emphasized that if we made a mess, we were responsible for cleaning it up.

A good bit of the “mess” in our waters can be attributed to the microorganisms that are potentiated by chemical changes in the water due to runoffs from some of the fertilizers we use on our lawns and crops and inefficient septic systems.

Nitrogen and phosphorus particularly foster growth of algae that can have devastating effects on the ecosystem. Lyngbya, which is found in our rivers, can form mats and block sunlight from reaching natural plants such as eel grass that through photosynthesis produce oxygen in the water for fish and other wildlife. The plants in time die, and along with the algae, form muck that cloud the waters and settle on the bottom. Fish and other wildlife in turn die or leave the area and the process worsens until the waters are spoiled.

Lyngbya can also produce a rash in people known as Swimmer’s Itch. In other areas of our state Cyanophyta, which is a blue-green algae, has even worse effects by producing noxious toxins that are even harmful to humans as well as animals.

Fortunately, a large segment of our agricultural community is taking steps to use “best practices” in water and fertilizer management. Here in Citrus County, M&B Dairy has become an example in its industry for operating with the best interest of the environment in mind. They need to be congratulated for their efforts.

Our county government and the state have also considered revising fertilizer statutes, and all of us can start now by using slow-release fertilizers and not spreading any during the rainy season. If you live on or near the water and your setback does not already require one, you may want to consider a berm around your lot so the runoff is somewhat contained.

Our state is also making inroads in converting septic systems to sewers. Currently all of the Florida Keys are on sewers. Those processes are occurring in Citrus County, as well, and several hundred thousand dollars have been appropriated this year by the state to aid in that expensive effort. But we can be proactive now by having our septic systems inspected and ensure they are working properly.

Keeping Citrus County waters beautiful is a job for all of us. Our beautiful rivers are a primary driver of our economy, as well as providing all of us with a little glimpse of the creation God designed.

We humans often work best when we are working to fulfill our desires. Can we not desire to work together to keep our water beautiful? It certainly will be worth our efforts.

Dr. Ralph Massullo is a state representative in the Florida Legislature representing District 34. He has degrees in industrial engineering and medicine. He interned in psychiatry and medicine and completed a residency and fellowships in dermatology and dermatologic surgery. He is president and founder of Suncoast Dermatology and Skin Surgery Center PA.