FORT MYERS, Fla. The water looks better than it did last year at many places in Southwest Florida.
But a possible danger is hiding just below the surface, water tests commissioned by WINK News and reviewed by an environmental scientist show.
“People have to remind themselves seeing is deceiving,” Florida Gulf Coast University environmental studies assistant professor Dr. Serge Thomas said.
Water samples were taken at Fort Myers Beach Pier, Punta Rassa and the Franklin Lock and Dam. They show nutrient levels are higher than they should be for a healthy environment.
Phosphorus at Franklin Lock read much higher than what is recommended for healthy water in the Everglades, according to Thomas.
“That’s 28 times (more) than what is recommended to have healthy water … super high,” he said.
The areas along the east coast affected by algae last year were the first to be covered under a state of emergency declared by Gov. Rick Scott. It was later extended to Lee County, where coffee-colored water flowed along beaches.
Nutrients like phosphorus can get in the water via agricultural runoff from plants, animals and land. That’s often at the root of the issue with discharges from Lake Okeechobee that are blamed for trouble in the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie waterways.
The lake is adjacent to farmland, and the battle over water often pits those who live near the lake and work in agriculture against water advocates on the coasts.
State and federal projects are underway to address the issue, but coastal homeowners can take simple steps to help the water quality by themselves. Planting native vegetation can counteract some of the harmful effects of nutrient runoff, according to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Click here for a list of recommended native plants.