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Cleaning the Homosassa River

By Kathy Green Posted on April 22, 2020

I last wrote about the Homosassa River Restoration Project (HRRP) here on Naturecoaster.com back in October 2017. The all-volunteer non-profit group was created in November 2016 with the mission to restore and preserve the Homosassa River.

Almost 3½ years later, the first two million in funding from the state is in the bank!

The Homosassa River has been in a steady decline for decades with many areas turning black with pools of green slime. Algae dominates the ecosystem. Nitrate and salinity levels are at record highs. Lyngbya Algae (the green, stringy blobs that mushroom all summer) smothers other native plant life.

A photo of Lyngbya algae from University of Florida’s plant database. Image used with creative commons license.

HRRP’S goal is to remove the Lyngbya algae that has invaded the river, as well as the muck on the bottom, destroying 90% of the native vegetation. The Lyngbya algae and detritus that has accumulated also blocks the natural springs that feed the river with clean water. By removing the lyngbya, the water clarity and quality will increase.

To begin the restoration, divers using specially designed vacuum equipment remove the Lyngbya algae and layers of detritus material from the river and canal bottom. We pump the suctioned material through large hoses to a worksite on shore. The water and “muck” is then put through a three-stage cleaning process.

Image courtesy of Save Crystal River.

Nearly all of the legacy nitrates and phosphorus are removed during this process. The algae and other organic material separated at the worksite is trucked to farms where it is recycled as fertilizer. Nothing is wasted.

After this process, native eel grass will be planted. The grass will be protected from hungry manatees by using exclusion cages until the grass is established and reproducing (usually 12-18 months). The Homosassa River Restoration Project will follow all of the guidelines of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection as work proceeds on the river.

This process mimics the highly successful one undergoing in Kings Bay, the Kings Bay Restoration Project. That project has removed Lyngbya algae, planted eel grass, and restored over 45 acres in Crystal River’s idyllic bay.

Learn about the Kings Bay Restoration Project with this informational video. The Homosassa River Restoration Project will mimic this highly successful program.

Homosassa River Restoration Project expects to begin cleanup in May

All necessary documentation has been submitted to both the Army Corp of Engineers and Florida Department of Environmental Protection but before the final permits could be granted, a worksite had to be created.

HRRP signed a lease agreement with the Oasis Hotel for a vacant lot behind their building which will be its land-based worksite. A driveway to the worksite was necessary and lease was signed with the owner of the Hydro Shine property on Halls River Road. There was a thrift store at that location and it was demolished last week.  HRRP expects to have the worksite complete by mid to late May and then the cleanup can begin!

Goal of the Homosassa River Restoration Project. Clean, clear river. Image courtesy of HRRP.

Sea & Shoreline to provide Aquatic Restoration Services

The main contractor for the cleanup is Sea & Shoreline. According to their website, Sea & Shoreline is a full service Florida-based aquatic restoration firm with nearly 20 years of experience restoring fresh and saltwater habitats to healthy and self-sustaining ecosystems.  They are the same organization that services the Kings Bay Restoration Project.

Current state funding will cover Stage 1 which includes the Homosassa River and the canal east of Fishbowl Drive Bridge and river bottom adjacent to Homosassa Wildlife park property on both sides of the river on the west side of the bridge.

Sea and Shoreline will also complete before and after biological studies of the project. Those studies began last week.

manatee
Image by Benjamin Brandt from Pixabay

HRRP’s New Website is Up and Running

HRRP’S new website came online two weeks ago, and their Facebook page has been updated.  A second website that will be dedicated to the restoration project will be online in May.

While funding for the next stage of the river cleanup was in the state budget, due to the current crisis, the budget may be changed. Donations for this worthy project would be greatly appreciated. You can donate to the cause here.

Comments

Don Hiers says

What will happen is the culmination of several years of hard work of many people and thanks is given to them. Of note, Steve Minguy led the charge by going to Tallahassee and lobbying folks there for those years. As noted in this article, the vacuuming will remove almost all "legacy nitrates and phosphorus" which is harmful to the river. Unfortunately, this will be a temporary fix if we continue to allow septic systems. Leaching of these "nutrients" into the river is well documented. The EPA states that "elevated nitrogen and phosphorus levels can be released into local water bodies or ground water" from septic systems. With other concerned citizens I urge the Citrus County Commission, SWFWMD, and our state government to allocate funding at the headsprings of the river to help replace septic systems with an environmentally friendly sewer system.

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