Governor Rick Scott has added Lee and Palm Beach Counties to the state of emergency declaration for algae in the waterways.
Scott issued a state of emergency for Martin and St. Lucie Counties on Wednesday after algae blooms were found in local waterways.
On Thursday, Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers and Reps. Matt Caldwell of North Fort Myers and Ray Rodrigues of Estero issued a joint statement asking Scott to include Lee County as well.
The three Republicans said Scott’s declaration draws attention to water quality issues also affecting the Caloosahatchee River.
The lawmakers also have asked federal authorities that oversee Lake Okeechobee to immediately stop freshwater releases that coastal communities blame for algae blooms and other environmental damage.
Thursday afternoon, the Army Corps. of Engineers sent out a memo saying the emergency declarations have forced them to reduce the water releases from Lake Okeechobee. Starting Friday, the target flow for the Caloosahatchee Estuary will be 3,000 cubic feet/second averaged over a seven-day period.
The new target flow for the St. Lucie Estuary will be a seven-day average of 1,170 cubic feet/second as measured at St. Lucie Lock near Stuart. Additional runoff from rain in the St. Lucie basin could occasionally result in flows that exceed targets.
The corps says the lake stage is 14.90 feet, up more than a foot since the lake hit its low for 2016 of 13.64 on May 17. The corps will continue to monitor conditions and adjust flows as necessary.
Toxic blue-green algae invading east coast
While the west coast is dealing with brown water, the east coast is dealing with toxic blue-green algae.
Several beaches are closed. On Thursday, Senator Bill Nelson toured areas where a state of emergency has been declared. We went on that river tour in Stuart and asked Nelson what can be done.
“Oh, it’s bad. It’s all bad. You know, our way of life here in Stuart, Florida is dictated by the river and the condition of the water,” said Captain Rufus Wakeman, who lives in Stuart.
Captain Wakeman was devastated after seeing the algae on the St. Lucie River.
“When you show up at a boat ramp and you’ve got a high bacteria sign, game over,” said Wakeman.
Senator Bill Nelson was on a boat himself to see the blooms firsthand after Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in Martin and St. Lucie Counties.
“You put enough nutrients in, and you’re going to get this kind of stuff,” said Sen. Nelson.
Senators Benacquisto and Southwest Florida representatives have now asked Gov. Scott to include Lee County in the declaration.
“I’ve been on the Caloosahatchee many, many times. [The] same thing is happening in the Caloosahatchee that is happening here in the St. Lucie,” said Sen. Nelson.
The brown water seen around Southwest Florida is just one of the water woes stemming from Lake Okeechobee’s releases and runoff.
“When Fort Myers, Captiva, Sanibel, that area of the Caloosahatchee outflow which gets twice the discharge we get — when they start really feeling this, then they’re going to get emotional,” said Wakeman.
Senator Nelson said twice as much water is released to the west than to the east. He said legislation is in the works to allow water storage near LaBelle as it waits to be sent south.