Florida is a wonderful place to visit. The year-round warm weather and numerous beaches make it The place to be when the rest of the country is experiencing frigid temperatures — except, that is when those beautiful beaches are shut down due to harmful and smelly algae blooms.
A Microscopic Attack
Algae blooms (known as red tide when the microorganisms are red in color) are devastating to aquatic life: the vast numbers of protozoans and unicellular algae (i.e., diatoms and dinoflagellates) are so thick that they can actually block out the sun, preventing it from reaching the plant and animal life that exists below the surface. Because they deplete the oxygen levels in the water, the results of an algal bloom includes fish kill — a localized die-off of fish populations –, foul smells, and a potential for bacterial infections in humans. Algae blooms are triggered by storms that sweep nutrients to the surface levels where these microorganisms live and, in Florida’s case, contamination via septic systems.
An estimated 20% of Americans rely on septic tanks to dispose of their sewage: they discharge liquid effluent (wastewater) into underground channels which are then filtered through the soil. However, Florida is comprised almost entirely of swampland; thanks to the recent efforts of Hurricane Irma, the land became saturated with water, rendering this filtering process ineffective. Instead, the effluent travels — as runoff does — to empty into the ocean. When the algae get a taste of that sweet sewage, they multiply and spread at alarmingly fast rates, causing beach shutdowns, potential illness, and turning the Floridian paradise into a “poopy swampland.”
From The Mountains To The Prairies
Coastal regions are not the only ones at risk. Anywhere that experiences heavier-than-average rainfall — which is occurring more frequently due to global warming — may see sewage bubbling out of manholes, flowing down city streets, and running off into nearby rivers and bays. Since this can cause drinking water contamination, it’s no real surprise that consumption of bottled water goes up by 10% each year; trusting the cleanliness of public resources is becoming more and more difficult.
Though the Colorado River, one of the largest rivers in the country, faced a similar problem in the early 1980s, it is experiencing the opposite now. The winding river stretches through 11 state parks making it as ecologically significant as it is economically; unfortunately, it’s drying up. Residents won’t be staring down the barrel of sewage contamination, but the Centennial State will need to adjust its agricultural water priorities in order to maintain the balance and keep sanitary and fire water available.
From algae blooms to dust bowls, our nation’s water supply is vital to our way of life, and not just because we’re dependent on the liquid to survive. Our livelihood — whether it’s fueled by tourism in Florida or agriculture in the Midwest — relies on a clean and constant source of water.