Environmentalists 'hopeful' for year of progress in improving water quality on the Treasure Coast

Posted at 11:38 PM, Jan 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-03 05:13:46-05

Treasure Coast residents may always remember 2016 as one of the worst years for local waterways.

The sights and smells of toxic mats of green algae plagued the Indian River Lagoon for months.

RELATED: More toxic water coverage

But there is hope for a better 2017, as lawmakers prepare to put plans onto paper for improving future conditions.

There are many factors that go into fixing all of the problems facing the river.

The Lake Okeechobee releases, old and leaky septic systems and local runoff are only some of the issues, but they are a focus of improvement.

Mark Perry with Florida Oceanographic says a major area of potential progress in 2017 is a plan to purchase 60,000 care of land south of Lake Okeechobee.

State Senator and incoming Florida Senate President Joe Negron is aiming to push for a plan to buy that land to store water, clean it then send it on the the Everglades.

That will be a fight with agricultural interests.

There are also plans already in place to continue working to strengthen the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee.

Crews will also make progress on the C-44 Canal in Western Martin County to clean water flowing east from Lake Okeechobee.

Converting old leaky septic systems will also continue.

While these plans could take decades to provide real results, it’s a step forward.

Ed Hamrick owns the River Lilly Cruises in Port St. Lucie, taking tourists on the North Fork of the St. Lucie River.

The scenery and the wildlife are highlighted on the waterway.

But, when images of toxic blue-green algae were plastered on the internet and on TV’s nationwide, Hamrick worried about what that could do to his business.

The algae wasn’t a problem in the north fork of the river.

“We get grouped in with that, with the Lake O discharges. So, people are wondering if it’s safe to come out on the boat or if they’re actually going to see anything,” Hamrick said.

Other businesses were forced to close permanently because of the water quality issues. He is still open, despite confusion by some potential clients that he closed, too.

“Some of the other businesses that have closed down… they’ve gotten confused as to who’s closed, who’s open.”

Bacteria from local runoff and septic systems impacts his business the most.

That’s where he would like to see more progress made.

“Obviously now that we have a business on the water, it’s more of a concern to us,” Hamrick said.

Several State Senators are already scheduled to have a committee hearing on Jan. 11. They will begin talking about options for reducing Lake Okeechobee discharges and Everglades Restoration.