An Historical Nutrient Geography of the Lake Okeechobee Watershed

Authors: Zachary Caple*,
Topics: Anthropocene, Water Resources and Hydrology, Cultural Geography
Keywords: Eutrophication, Lake Okeechobee, Phosphorus, Toxic Algae
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Marshall North, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


From the red tide on Florida's southwest coast to the cyanobacteria blooms in Lake Okeechobee, toxic algae have become an unruly force in Florida politics. In this paper, I chart how agricultural modernization, chemical fertilizers, and flood control projects of the last century cause the harmful algae blooms and estuary blowouts that are plaguing South Florida waterscapes. The paper deconstructs the Lake Okeechobee Watershed (LOW) into its component elements to understand how blooms of toxic algae materialize across this highly engineered and formerly oligotrophic watershed. Underpinning this work is an innovative method I call storymapping. A storymap is a bricolage of cartographic, historical, and ethnographic data compiled through fieldwork, archival research, and intensive workshops. In February 2019, I will be hosting a storymapping workshop with leading Everglades limnologists, political ecologists, and phycologists. The purpose of this workshop is to take a spatial environmental history of the LOW (an historical base map) and infuse it with the insights from the scientists who create its nutrient budgets, study its algae blooms, and chart the political and institutional obstacles to Everglades restoration. In this storymapping workshop, I will ask participants to pay special attention to anthropogenic sources of phosphorus and nitrogen –– industrial dairies, cow-calf operations, leaky septic tanks, and Big Sugar –– and the role those nutrients play in bloom formation across the freshwater-marine interface.

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