Water Quality in the Palm Beaches & Treasure Coast


          If you live along the Treasure Coast or in Palm Beach County, odds are that you’ve been hearing about the blue-green algae blooms that have been plaguing our canals, beaches and intercostal waterways. Nutrient laden water is being pumped from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie River at a rate of 420 million gallons per day. “Why are we pumping potentially polluted freshwater from Lake O into our sensitive brackish water ecosystem?” you may ask. That is the decision of the Army Corps of Engineers, who monitor and control the water level of the lake. If the water level is too high, the aging Herbert Hoover Dike is at risk of failing; resulting in flooding that would destroy agriculture and decimate the surrounding communities.

          So whose fault is it? Unfortunately there is no simple answer to that question. Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, occurs when excess nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen) are present in the water along with warm temperatures and stagnant water. These excess nutrients can come from storm water runoff in communities, fertilizers used in agriculture, and septic tank seepage. Not all algae are bad, but certain types of cyanobacteria can be toxic. Reports of skin rashes, headaches and respiratory problems have been reported in affected areas since the blooms were discovered. 

          Why should you care? As a Realtor®, these algae blooms could have a direct impact on your profession and ultimately your income. How so? While we have no statistical proof yet, the presence of blue-green algae has the potential to drive property values down not only on the immediately affected coastal properties but throughout St. Lucie and Palm Beach Counties. It’s no secret that people move to South Florida for our pristine beaches and crystal-clear waters. If those beaches are covered in blue-green sludge and our waters become unsafe to swim in, people will decide to move further north or south of our slice of paradise.

          What is RAPB doing about it? The Realtors® Association of the Palm Beaches' Government Affairs (GA) Team has been on top of this crisis since the first blooms were reported. Our GA Team has been attending South Florida Water Management District meetings along with numerous other municipal meetings to hear, first hand, what officials are doing to stop the algae blooms. We have been monitoring the Army Corps of Engineers discharges from Lake Okeechobee, as well. But most importantly, we have the ear of elected officials, and they’re listening to what we have to say. We will continue to speak with them to ensure they understand the importance of fixing this pressing issue. RAPB represents your best interests at the local, state and national government levels, and we will do everything in our power to give you the tools to be successful. If that means making a big stink about the blue-green algae, then you can count on us to be a pungent force.


+ Is the Blue-Green Algae toxic?

Blue-Green Algae, or cyanobacteria, has the ability to be toxic. Although not all types are toxic.

+ Has an algae bloom like this happened before?

Yes, in fact a similar bloom happened in the summer of 2013 and is often referred to as “The Lost Summer”. There has been more water pumped from Lake Okeechobee this year so far as there was for the entirety of 2013.

+ Is Lake Okeechobee water polluted or “toxic”?

Biologists have said the lake water is not polluted or toxic, but does have too much nontoxic phosphorus and nitrogen from human activities.

+ Is there a way to get rid of the algae?

To date, there is no “fix-all” for the algae blooms. The algae dies off when the salinity levels in the water reach a certain level, only the natural tidal fluxes have been able to kill the Blue-Green Algae.

+ How is the US Army Corps of Engineers trying to solve the problem?

Since the Corps controls the Lake Okeechobee discharges, they have been staggering the water releases to mimic large rain events. This gives the ecosystem a chance to naturally flush out the algae-filled water with the tides.

Imagine if you just bought a home on the water there, where values are largely tied to access to water and the boat dock. And now you step outside and there is a green slime, a thick green slime that some have compared to guacamole sitting on the surface of the ocean, sitting right there on your porch basically.

You can imagine what that’s doing to property values.