Cleaning our water through stormwater treatment areas and wetlands plays a crucial role in Everglades protection and restoration. Even the tiniest organism can play a huge role in cutting down on nutrients, like phosphorous, in our stormwater runoff.
Before water reaches the Everglades, it has to be cleaned. Barry Rosen is a professor at the Water School at Florida Gulf Coast University. “We don’t want to move water around that isn’t meeting water quality standards,” said Rosen.
One way to filter that water is through stormwater treatment areas or STAs in the Everglades Agricultural Area south of Lake Okeechobee. Think of these STAs as mini man-made wetlands. “Those stormwater treatment areas are supposed to bring phosphorus concentrations down before that water is released into the Everglades,” Rosen said.
But what happens if those areas don’t clean as well as they could? “How do we get these stormwater treatment areas to be more efficient, pulling more phosphorus out before it ever is released?” Rosen said.
This is where Rosen and his students from The Water School step in. They look at microorganisms found in water, plants and sediment from these stormwater treatment areas to see which of the organisms may be able to remove the most phosphorous. Phosphorus is a nutrient that helps fuel algal blooms.
“We’re also taking a dive into the genes that will tell us exactly who’s there because the microscope only gets us so far,” said Rosen. “If we can learn what members of the community are doing the majority of the work and find out who they’re attached to, that’s the kind of plant we can encourage to grow.”
That will help microorganisms grow while also cutting down the nutrients in the water.
The South Florida Water Management District provides funding for the $128,000 study. The study is expected to wrap in the summer of 2022. If it is successful, researchers hope they’ll be able to continue the study by running it during different seasons.