Gov. Rick Scott has issued an emergency declaration over the nasty toxic algae outbreak in South Florida. It applies in Glades, Hendry, Lee, Martin, Okeechobee, Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties.
The national headlines and television reports are a nightmare for South Florida’s tourism-based economies (and Gov. Rick Scott’s race for U.S. Senate,) with disgusting fluorescent blue and green pictures of Florida waters airing coast to coast and streaming through social media sites.
The algae-filled water gets to the coast when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers releases water out of Lake Okeechobee down the Caloosahatchee River to the Gulf (near Fort Myers) and the St. Lucie River (near Stuart and Jupiter Island) to the Atlantic. The pollution in Lake Okeechobee comes from sewage, manure and fertilizer – most of it from large agricultural operations around the lake.
Among other things, Scott’s emergency declaration allows state water managers to waive some regulations and pump more polluted water from Lake Okeechobee to inland water bodies to avoid sending more polluted mess to coastal communities.
The state set up a hotline for people to report algae outbreaks (855-305-3903) and Scott directed environmental and health agencies to step up water testing and notices to the public. Toxic algae can cause intestinal distress, respiratory problems, and is linked to auto-immune diseases like Parkinson’s and ALS. Exposure to toxic algae has also been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
Scott is under political fire over the horrible algae outbreaks as he runs against Bill Nelson for the U.S. Senate. Nelson and others point out that the governor has made pollution worse by slashing environmental agency budgets, cutting enforcement and science staff, and weakening clean water regulations during his eight years. In a news release about the emergency declaration, Scott blamed Congress and the federal government.
Scott’s emergency declaration sets up a state grant program to help local governments pay for costs associated with the environmental crisis. The governor made a similar declaration during a massive algae outbreak two years ago, a toxic algae crisis referred to in many South Florida communities as the “lost summer.”