Bill Nelson, Marco Rubio urge action on bill that could help move water south

algae bloom (Large)

Sen. Bill Nelson has called on Senate leaders to immediately pass a bill authorizing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to move forward with projects to send water south.

In a letter Wednesday, Nelson urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 up for a vote “as soon as possible.” Among other things, the bill authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to move forward with the Central Everglades Planning Project, which is designed to move water south.

“South Florida is facing a crisis. The water flowing in the St. Lucie River is covered with dark green and brown algae,” said Nelson. “Beaches and waterways that would normally have been crowded this past Fourth of July weekend were empty as families and vacationers heeded warnings to avoid the toxic blue-green and brown algae blooms that have formed along the waterways and even out into the Atlantic Ocean.”

Sen. Marco Rubio also called on McConnell to bring the bill to a vote, saying in a letter it is “clear that the federal government must do more.”

“While we allow this bill to sit idly, unknown damage is being done to Florida’s ecology, economy, and to the health of those who come into contact with the (harmful algal bloom),” said Rubio.

Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency last week in Martin, St. Lucie, Lee and Palm Beach counties to combat algae blooms. The state of emergency called on state agencies to take action to address the algae blooms, which have been clogging the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.

Many believe discharges flowing down the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers are one of the causes of the algae blooms. Nelson said the algae blooms are the result of historic amounts of rain, which forced the Army Corps of Engineers to send discharges down the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers.

South Florida Water Management District officials, however, have said the releases aren’t the only reason for the blooms. District officials said algae blooms happened in years past, like 2014, when there were no lake releases.

Nelson took a swipe at state lawmakers in his letter, saying since the state “refuses to acquire additional land south of the lake to help store and treat this water before sending it south — as Mother Nature intended — it’s imperative that Congress act now to help solve the problem.”

The call for action in the U.S. Senate came just hours after Scott announced he wanted to include money in the 2017-18 budget to help clean up the Indian River Lagoon and Caloosahatchee River. In a statement Thursday, Scott said the proposal will include a 50-50 matching grant program with local communities near the areas affected by the algae blooms.

That money, Scott said, would be used to encourage residents to move from septic tanks to sewer systems to curb pollution. The proposed funding would also help local communities build wastewater systems to meet the increased demand for services.

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster


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