toxic algae Archives - Florida Politics

Governor: Another $3M available to battle red tide

Gov. Rick Scott announced on Friday an additional $3 million in grant funding for communities impacted by red tide.

Over the past few months, Scott and the Department of Environmental Protection have rolled out algae-targeting grants in $3 million batches. The grand total to date: $9 million. That sum includes the $3 million announced in July to target blue-green algae outbreaks, along with $3 million announced last week for Gulf coast counties to battle red tide, a near-annual toxic species that has garnered national attention this season.

“We are using every resource available to support our communities impacted by red tide,” Scott said. “This $9 million in grant funding that DEP is providing to Southwest Florida counties will help get businesses and families back to work as they continue to recover from this year’s red tide.”

The money behind the red tide grants was unlocked after Scott declared a state of emergency over the issue earlier this month. The order enlists state assistance for Collier, Lee, Charlotte, Sarasota, Manatee, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

The breakdown of money in each county so far, according to Scott’s office: $750,000 for Manatee County; more than $190,000 for Collier; $1.1 million for Sarasota; $3.17 million for Lee; and $700,000 for Martin.

Amid worry that this year’s algae outbreaks — both blue-green and red tide — could affect small businesses, Scott also approved an emergency loan program overseen by the Department of Economic Opportunity. Enterprises in areas plagued by blue-green algae have until Sept. 7 to apply for the loans. Those affected by red tide have until Oct. 12.

Lake O releases to resume Friday

Freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries as a means of managing regional flood risks will resume Friday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Jacksonville announced.

The anticipated announcement comes as politicians continue to blame each other for the toxic algae outbreaks in the estuaries.

After touring impacted waters in Southwest Florida on Monday, Gov. Rick Scott issued an emergency order for Glades, Hendry, Lee, Martin, Okeechobee, Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties over the reemergence of toxic algae outbreaks on both coasts, which residents believe are caused by the releases.

“We acknowledge the multiple challenges in this system including this summer’s extensive algal blooms,” Col. Jason Kirk, Jacksonville District commander with the Army Corps of Engineers, said in a press release Thursday. “Through our federal-state dike rehabilitation and Everglades restoration efforts, along with the state and local community investments to control nutrients from the lake and adjacent waterways, we are collective on the path to remedying these multiple challenges.”

In response to Scott’s order, the South Florida Water Management District on Thursday announced it had started to lower water levels in conservation areas as a way to send more water south from the lake.

“These pumps will increase the capacity of water that can be moved out of Water Conservation Area 3B into Shark River Slough and into Everglades National Park by up to 200 cubic feet per second,” a release from the district stated. “Additionally, numerous other permanent and temporary pumps are currently being operated by the District 24 hours a day to move more water out of the conservation areas.”

In addition to increasing the flow into Everglades National Park, which will also start Friday, the water management district will slow flows into the lake from the Kissimmee River and other points north of the river, while moving as much water as possible into other storage areas on the south side of the lake.

The Army Corps had suspended releases into the St. Lucie Estuary on June 30 and into the Caloosahatchee Estuaries on Sunday so a full assessment of system conditions could be undertaken.

The lake level neared 14.5 feet on Thursday, the third highest for this date in 11 years. The lake level has increased more than a foot-and-a-half since May 13 due to record rainfalls. Rain over the past two weeks has caused the lake level to rise just over two inches.

Kirk said the discharges will operate below the limits allowed in the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule for the next two weeks.

“We will implement pulse releases with variable flows that simulate rainfall events in an effort to reduce some of the environmental impacts,” he said in the release.

The Army Corps’ move to limit water levels in the lake is intended to reduce the chance of a major breach of the Herbert Hoover Dike, which is basically a 30-foot-high earthen structure that surrounds the lake. Last week, the corps said that $514.2 million is heading toward repairs of the dike.

The toxic blooms have sparked a political firestorm and erupted into major finger pointing by local, state and federal officials operatives.

Palm Beach real estate magnate Jeff Greene, who is running as a Democrat for governor, called the latest algae outbreak “a direct result of the system collapsing after 20 years of Republican leadership” after taking his own tour of the waters on Wednesday.

Scott, who is trying to unseat incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, has blamed his opponent for failing to push Congress to act on water issues affecting South Florida.

Water Resources Analysis Coalition tries to temper algae bloom fears

Though multiple outlets are reporting blue-green algae sightings this week, the Water Resources Analysis Coalition (WRAC) has a message for the public.

It’s not time to panic, just yet.

Not all forms of algae are toxic, and it’s not yet clear whether the algae spotted by some is the same type that troubled Floridians during the bloom in 2016. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is taking samples of recent algae sightings to determine whether it is toxic.

According to a DEP representative at Thursday’s meetings, no proof of toxic algae has yet been found, but testing is still ongoing.

Nitrogen and phosphorus flowing into Lake Okeechobee aid the growth of toxic algae, which can then spread throughout the state as it exits the lake into nearby waterways.

During the public comment period, Ramon Iglesias, manager of the Roland Martin Marina in Clewiston urged the group to focus on the source of the problem north of Lake Okeechobee.

“We hear an awful lot about the water coming out of Lake Okeechobee to the coastal communities, and while I agree it’s a problem, we need to start talking about stopping the water coming into Lake Okeechobee,” said Iglesias.

Recently, Iglesias took a boat to the Kissimmee River, where the vast majority of the water enters into Lake Okeechobee and posted a video of what he saw on Facebook.

The WRAC meeting did describe Lake Okeechobee’s water level as “high” after it rose 1.3 feet in the last 30 days. That could contribute to the spread of toxic algae if a large bloom occurs. The lake is currently below its 2016 levels, but well above where it was last year.

Satellite imaging presented at the WRAC meeting was also not able to pick up any presence of excessive algae blooms inside the lake. But members noted that things could change in coming weeks.

The 2016 bloom overwhelmed parts of the Treasure Coast. The episode caused several beaches to close and forced Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency in four counties.

WRAC members are appointed by the governing board of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD). According to its website, members “represent a broad range of business, agricultural, environmental, tribal, governmental and public interests.”

Joe Negron says he’ll push for funding to buy land south of Lake O

Calls to send the water south of appear to have been heard.

Senate President Designate Joe Negron announced Tuesday he planned to push lawmakers to set aside money to purchase land for water storage south of Lake Okeechobee. The Stuart Republican said he has identified two areas — an area south of the lake that straddles the Miami Canal and the Bolles Canal, and an area to the southeast adjacent to existing stormwater treatment areas, canals and the A-1 flow equalization basin — as possible locations for the project.

In a statement, Negron said the areas were identified because of the “ability to leverage existing structures to facilitate the continued flow of water to the south.” The cost of reservoirs on 60,000 acres would be about $2.4 billion. The state’s commitment would be $1.2 billion, with the federal government picking up the difference.

Negron said the state could use Amendment 1 dollars — an estimated $100 million a year for 20 years — to finance purchase of the land and construction of reservoirs.

“For too long, our community has been plagued by tremendous environmental and economic impacts as hundreds of millions of gallons of water are released from Lake Okeechobee each year,” said Negron. “Permanent storage south of Lake Okeechobee is unquestionably needed as part of the overall plan to solve this catastrophic problem, particularly given the very devastating effects the current toxic algal blooms are causing in both our estuaries and the Everglades.”

A spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Scott said he was reviewing the proposal and “will continue to review all options that will help with water quality in our state.”

Discharges from Lake Okeechobee have been blamed for the toxic algae that clogged up the Treasure Coast’s waterways and temporarily closed beaches earlier this summer. The Army Corps of Engineers began releasing water down the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers earlier this year, after a wetter-than-normal January.

Ben Diamond proposes plan for protecting Florida’s environment, water quality

As he’s walked Florida’s House District 68 the past weeks, candidate Ben Diamond says he’s found one overriding issue among voters: a concern for the environment and the state’s waterways.

So, on Tuesday, Diamond held a news conference to unveil a six-point plan he says he’ll work to pass if elected.

“I’m running for the Florida House because our state leaders need to do more to preserve and protect our water and our environment,” Diamond wrote in his proposal. “Like many of you, I’m devastated to see the green, toxic algae blooms washing on the sands of our Atlantic Coast.”

State policies in recent years, he said, have only weakened water quality and environmental standards and helped polluters at the expense of the environment and water.

“What we have seen from Tallahassee in response to this crisis?” Diamond asked. “No real action, just typical finger pointing.”

Diamond added, “This has been a difficult summer for the environment in Florida.”

One such crisis began in Lake Okeechobee, where toxic algae cover 33 square miles. That toxic water was pumped out to reduce dangerously high water levels in the lake with the result of toxic algae pouring into estuaries that ended up in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. Many waterways have become unsafe for recreation, which Diamond said could have an adverse impact on tourism. Fish kills and manatee deaths have also occurred.

The aquifer and drinking water are also at risk, Diamond said.

Diamond’s six-point plan:

— Buy land near Lake Okeechobee to provide more space to store and treat contaminated water.

— Pass a more stringent timeline for polluters to “clean up their mess.”

— Restore the budgets of regulatory agencies responsible for protecting the state’s waterways and environment.

— Update and modernize Florida’s stormwater management standards and practices.

— Restore oversight of septic systems.

— Adopt the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s recommendations for establishing water quality standards.

The news conference, at St. Petersburg’s Northshore Park, also served as a platform for Florida Conservation Voters to announce its endorsement of Diamond.

“We think he’s going to be an invaluable friend to Florida’s environment once he’s elected,” said Aliki Moncrief, executive director of Florida Conservation Voters.

Florida Conservation Voters is a nonpartisan coalition of the state’s conservation community. It was started to advocate for Amendment 1, the water and land conservation amendment that passed in November 2014. Diamond served as a pro bono lawyer and adviser for that campaign, which won approval with more than 75 percent of the vote.

Diamond also won the praise of St. Petersburg City Council member Darden Rice who praised him, saying, “I know that Ben Diamond is head-and-shoulders above the rest” when it comes to doing what’s needed to protect the state’s environment.

Diamond is facing Eric Lynn in the Aug. 30 Democratic primary for HD 68. The winner of the primary will face Republican Joseph JB Bensmihen in the Nov. 8 general election.

HD 68 covers northeast St. Petersburg, Feather Sound and a portion of Pinellas Park.

In new ad, Randy Perkins vows to solve Treasure Coast’s water problems

Randy Perkins is out with two new advertisements, including one focused on the area’s water woes.

The Treasure Coast Democrat released the advertisements Wednesday. Both are running in the West Palm Beach media market.

The first advertisement — a 30-second spot called “Action” — highlights the frustration Treasure Coast residents are feeling over water quality issues and toxic algae blooms. Perkins uses the spot to highlight his background in disaster recovery, and says he will take action to solve the area’s problems.

“All talking has done is destroy our environment, our quality of life, and it’s killing our businesses along the Treasure Coast,” he says in the advertisement as he stands in front of algae-covered water. “I’ve been managing major disaster recovery projects in this country for over 20 years. I’m a problem solver, but more importantly I understand the problem. I will solve this. So we can keep talking about it, or we can take action. I’m taking action.”

The second advertisement — a 30-second spot called “Nailed It” — features his daughters. The two women talk about their father’s position on issues like women’s health and equal pay for equal work.

Perkins is vying to replace Rep. Patrick Murphy in Congress. He faces Democrat Jonathan Chane in the primary in Florida’s 18th Congressional District.

 

 

Water managers divert billions of gallons from Lake O to Martin County FPL facility

In response to the toxic algae blooms emergency on Florida’s coastline and waterways, billions of gallons of Lake Okeechobee water are now being diverted to the Florida Power and Light Clean Energy Center in Martin County.

The plant serves hundreds of thousands of homes, using primarily natural gas and solar, reports LobbyTools.

Located in Indiantown, the facility holds a 6,800-acre reservoir as a cooling pond.

“The water is used to help cool the plant, to allow us to generate power,” said FPL spokeswoman Sarah Gatewood.

LobbyTools notes water managers began diverting Lake Okeechobee water last week to the plant and away from coastal Martin County, which is facing a toxic algae crisis.

Gov. Rick Scott‘s executive order directed them to look for private locations to store the excess water, South Florida Water Management District officials say.

The FPL cooling pond is attached to the St. Lucie Canal, which takes Lake Okeechobee water to the Stuart area.

“We have the ability and capacity, and so we’re happy to be able to do what we can to help,” Gatewood added.

FPL expects to take on more than two billion gallons a month in the pool through September.

Diane Roberts: Top state pols defend Florida’s right to filthy water

No doubt you’re wondering what new ways Florida’s alleged leaders have found to squander taxpayer money, suck up to the rich and further foul Florida’s environment.

Well, prepare to be impressed: The Rick Scott administration is suing the feds for trying to protect rivers and wetlands. I mean, why should water get special rights: Does water think it’s gay or something?

On June 30, Florida’s duly (if inexplicably) elected attorney general joined six other polluter-friendly states in a lawsuit against EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, calling the Waters of the United States rule “an attempt by two agencies of the federal government to usurp the states’ primary responsibility for the management, protection, and care of intrastate waters and lands.”

Pam Bondi huffed, “Florida is better suited than the federal government to establish the regulatory rules necessary to protect our unique waterways.”

Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam, he of the obvious ambitions, jumped in with a big what she says on states’ rights: “The unconstitutional expansion of the EPA’s jurisdiction over the waters of the United States not only infringes on states’ authority, but also it threatens the sound environmental protection programs we have in place today.”

Let’s look at that so-called “sound environmental protection:” More than half of Florida’s “unique waterways” are designated “impaired” by inadequately treated fertilizer and sewage (“nutrients” is the polite term). The Indian River Lagoon is on the verge of ecological collapse. Large parts of the St. Johns, the Santa Fe, the Caloosahatchee, the St. Lucie and other great Florida rivers are choking under a filthy mat of toxic algae.

This algae isn’t just ugly as pig snot, it can make you sick: respiratory distress, liver damage, severe skin irritation. Sometimes it’s so bad, the state Department Of Health issues advisories against touching the water.

Florida’s Department of Environmental Prostitution hands out wetlands destruction permits like cheap candy. The governor and the Legislature continue to fight against numeric — that is, measurable — standards for Florida water, and claim Big Ag, Big Developer and Big Manure will, out of the goodness of their corporate hearts, voluntarily limit the crap they dump into lakes and rivers.

If they had to actually clean up the schmutz in their runoff before discharging it in our waters, it might cut into profits.

So Florida’s pollution-protectors make up stuff up to justify this dumb states’ rights lawsuit. Putnam’s been going around for more than a year telling Floridians that the new EPA rule is a “power grab” that means the federal gub’mint can control anything that might get mildly damp: ditches, farm ponds, mud puddles. Even your front yard after a heavy rain.

Small detail: it’s not true. The Waters of the United States rule clarifies EPA’s ability to regulate tributaries that run into rivers and lakes. You can’t get the dioxins out of the St. Johns or fertilizer out of the Indian River if you can’t control pollution in the streams that feed those waters.

EPA isn’t interested in anybody’s cow pond unless it’s within 1,500 feet of a water body already protected. Nor do they care about your soggy lawn. The revised rule expands EPA’s jurisdiction by only 3 percent.

Putnam, Bondi and Scott can say Florida’s best at taking care of its own waters till they’re algal blue in the face. They’re still demonstrably wrong.

Florida’s Legislature, abetted by Florida’s Cabinet, refuses to clean up Florida’s water. Just as bad, as we saw in the 2015 Session. They’ve been trying to stop other states cleaning up their water, too. Last year, Bondi joined a lawsuit by the American Farm Bureau Federation to stop restoration of Chesapeake Bay, once one of the world’s most biodiverse estuaries.

Happily, on July 6, a federal appeals court rolled it eyes and slapped the suit down.

By now you’ve probably figured out this is all about politics. Scott’s running for U.S Senate in 2018; Putnam wants to be governor.

Who knows what office Bondi craves: governor? Disney Princess?

In any case, they all need to appeal to the anti-science, anti-environment, pro-property rights, Obama-haters of the Florida Republican base who believe a cold winter in Boston disproves climate change and want  to monetize every inch of Florida ground.

Drain it, pave it, make a profit. Clean water? Doesn’t it come it bottles?

Diane Roberts teaches at Florida State University. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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