By: Amy Bennett Williams, Fort Myers News-Press
Southwest Florida’s recent toxic algae blooms were unprecedented in scope, persistence and sheer nastiness. Also unprecedented was how Lee County disposed of some of the crud, shown by science to be potentially carcinogenic to humans.
With $1.61 million from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the county hired the California-based firm AECOM to mount a “suck it and truck it” operation, vacuuming algae from Lee County canals, loading the slurry into tanker trucks, then hauling it to North Fort Myers for processing. Martin County, which was also slimed, hired the firm for a smaller treatment operation as well.
The technique is "an absolutely new process," said AECOM's Dan Levy. "There hadn't been the money for it until the governor made his executive order, which freed up the funds." (Rick Scott's state of emergency declaration made $3 million in cleanup money available to hard-hit counties.)
The algae solids were "dewatered," and the resulting mass was taken to a Lee County landfill in Hendry County, with the stipulation that it be covered to protect wildlife.
The liquids were treated to Florida Department of Environmental Protection standards, said Lee County spokeswoman Betsy Clayton, then transferred into a 5-million-gallon holding pond almost the size of five football fields 50 feet wide and 10 feet deep, before being pumped into a 2,600-foot deep well, below the confined drinking-water aquifer, Clayton said.
Injecting water into this underground geologic region, known as the boulder zone, is not a new notion. Some south Florida municipalities send their treated sewage effluent down there and the South Florida Water Management District has proposed pumping polluted Lake Okeechobee water into the boulder zone during high-water periods to reduce the strain on the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries…