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Emergency Declaration Could Bring Relief To Algae Stricken Waterways

Satellite photograph of Lake Okeechobee from July 2016, showing a large cyanobacteria algae bloom. Image courtesy of NASA
Satellite image of Lake Okeechobee showing the cyanobacteria algae bloom. Image courtesy of NASA

The head of the Indian River Lagoon Council said a Federal Emergency Declaration could help temporarily reduce blue-green algae in South Florida waterways.

Governor Rick Scott wrote to President Barack Obama asking for a federal emergency declaration, after algae washed up on beaches in St. Lucie and Martin Counties.

Scott said the Army Corps of Engineers has pumped billions of gallons of water from Lake Okeechobee into the Indian River Lagoon and Caloosahatchee River, contributing to the algae.

The Army Corps of Engineers said the lake level for July 1st. was the highest it’s been for 10 years, and it plans to maintain water discharges at the current rate.

Duane De Freese, the executive director of the Indian River Lagoon Council said slowing or stopping the discharge of fresh water is key to solving the algae problem in the coastal estuaries.

“That is one of the big issues on the table right now for discussion, is finding more storage capacity in what exists today, to at least reduce the flow, or hopefully get the point where you could close the locks, even if it’s just for a week,” said De Freese.

He said an emergency declaration could help fast track the hunt for alternative water storage sites.

De Freese said the blue-green algae blooms are an environmental catastrophe, and the worst he's seen in 40 years as a marine biologist in Florida.

"We have positive toxicity tests, so there is a direct animal and human health threat from those toxins," he said.

De Freese warns the Indian River and Banana River are also in bad shape. That’s where brown tide - a different kind of algal bloom- caused a massive fish die off in March.

“The water quality looks very bad to me still," he said.

"I’m actually surprised that we have not seen an additional bloom and a possible large scale mortality event of fish.”

Gov. Scott said he would call for extra money in next year's budget to help combat septic tank run off in the Indian River Lagoon and the Caloosahatchee River.