Thursday, July 7, 2016

Rick Scott asks Obama to declare state of emergency over algae blooms

Posted By on Thu, Jul 7, 2016 at 1:52 PM

In another round of the blame game surrounding the thick, putrid algae blooms choking the waters of Florida's Treasure Coast, Gov. Rick Scott is now calling on President Obama to declare a federal state of emergency over the water discharges from Lake Okeechobee. 

In a letter, Scott asks Obama to declare a federal emergency "due to the public health and safety threats associated with the unnatural discharges of a nutrient-laden freshwater from Lake Okeechobee into the canals that flow east into the Indian River Lagoon and west into the Caloosahatchee River."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is in charge of monitoring water levels in the lake, and earlier this year after months of heavy rainfall, the federal agency decided to discharge the brackish lake water into nearby rivers and estuaries eventually going to the coast. If they didn't, the water levels could rise high enough to potentially flood thousands of nearby homes and put residents' lives at risk. The polluted waters carried blue green algae whose blooms now threaten Florida's fragile environment and have made some people sick

Scott says in his letter that it's the federal government's responsibility to maintain and repair the lake's Herbert Hoover Dike that prevents increased flood damage. The current dike was built after hurricanes flooded the lake in early part of the last century and killed thousands. 

"Any damage caused by the unnecessary water releases due to the federal government's lack of appropriate maintenance of the Dike is the federal government's responsibility," he says. "If the federal government would have properly funded the maintenance and repair of the Dike then the [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] could have properly maintained and repaired the Dike and ensured the Dike was structurally sufficient to the USACE own standards...Now as a result of their releases, there is toxic algae which has caused environmental and economic devastation. The federal government has ignored proper maintenance and repair to this structure for more than a decade and has put our state in this vulnerable position." 

As much as Scott would like, the algae blooms clogging our shores can't be blamed on one thing or one person. Residents own some of the responsibility for blowing our grass clippings into stormwater system or staying with our septic tanks instead of switching to the sewer system (a problem to which Scott proposed additional funding to make those transitions). But as critics have pointed out, Florida's elected officials at the financial behest of the state's sugar and agricultural industries have for years made decisions that have contributed to the problem in Lake Okeechobee and the deterioration of the environment in general. 

As Ron Littlepage writes in a column for the Florida Times-Union

"This disaster didn’t happen overnight. 

We have chipped away and sometimes taken great chunks out of Florida’s environmental health in the pursuit of profits. We drained much of the Everglades and disrupted the natural flow of water to create giant farms and to make room for development that should never have gone there.

We filled in wetlands and built [filtered word] and canals, thoroughly changing Florida’s natural plumbing system. We pumped so much water out of the aquifer that our wonderful springs are no longer so wonderful.

Through it all, developers smiled, Big Ag smiled, industrialists smiled and elected officials smiled as big campaign checks came their way."

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