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Harvesting Hydrilla in Florida Lakes

A Long-Term Strategy for Large-Scale Removal of Legacy Phosphorus and Maintenance of Viable Habitat

E. Allen Stewart III P.E.

November 26, 2019

Over the past few years, in light of the growing controversy over herbicide use within Florida's surface waters,  I have made an effort to gain a better understanding of the extent of the problem associated with Hydrilla, and the strategies adopted to facilitate some degree of control. I have talked extensively with those adamantly opposed to the application of herbicides, and those who see herbicides as the most cost-effective means of controlling Hydrilla. The opposition is composed largely of fishermen and fisherwomen (both professional and recreational); outdoors men and women; and environmental activists including many aboriginal indigenous people; all of these typically having extensive experience with the Florida environment, and many being native Floridians. Those who to varying degrees support herbicide use include those involved in the actual sales, distribution and application of herbicides; institutions conducting research and assessment of herbicide use; agency people assigned with the responsibility of managing aquatic plants; and a collection of impacted property owners, local governments, and commercial interests.


The common thread I found among most of these disparate groups is the recognition that herbicides are designed toxins whose long-term impact on aquatic ecosystems, while touted to be minimal, are in reality not that well understood, and that if we could replace the use of these toxins with a more environmental protective method(s), it would be supported. With such a shared perspective you would think we would see aggressive efforts to reduce herbicide use. But such is not the case. Why is this? 

Let me offer two of my thoughts as to why we persist in widespread application of herbicides. The first  thought --this is an industry which appears particularly vulnerable to corruption.  I say this because there is a great deal of money involved in the sales, distribution, research and application of herbicides. As an engineer and scientist however I do not have the skills needed to investigate such matters, I can only express my concerns.  I realize all of this is only speculation, and I will leave the pursuit of this possibility to others. 

My second thought is a concern that the agencies and institutions involved in environmental management, including aquatic plant management,  are focused solely upon their specific charge, and hence do not recognize the overlap they may have with others. For example, aquatic plant management can have profound influence on water quality, but the FWC and their support institutions have consistently told me water quality is not their concern--that is the realm of the FDEP. On numerous occasions I suggested to FWC that they could benefit from the environmental services associated with nutrient removal by actually removing aquatic plants using mechanical harvesting through a Pay-For-Performance arrangment. This way they would be contributing greatly to TMDL compliance and water quality enhancement. The silence of a positive response to this suggesion was deafening.

Similarly, FDEP has shown little interest in the idea that harvesting aquatic plants on a sustainable basis could remove legacy nutrients and help meet the TMDL limits. The USACOE have actually sent me written confirmation that they do not bother with issues related to water quality, as their primary concern is with water quantity.  All of this denial of overlap reminds me of the failure of the FBI and CIA to share information--a sharing which might have allowed us to avoid the 9/11 event.