Members of Southwest Florida’s state legislative delegation sent a joint letter to Governor Rick Scott, Thursday, requesting an emergency declaration for Lee County to address the toxic blue-green algae blooms impacting area waters.
For about two weeks now, a guacamole-like blue-green algae bloom has been making its way down the Caloosahatchee River and is now moving westward through Lee County waters. Releases of nutrient-laden water from Lake Okeechobee are largely responsible for the toxic bloom.
State Rep. Dane Eagle (R-Cape Coral) who chairs the Lee County Legislative Delegation, sent the request, along with six other Southwest Florida state lawmakers and other municipal governments in Lee County.
“We’ve had discussions with people in his office about the request and they’ve, of course, been looking into it and they’re trying to determine whether it’s warranted and needed,” said Eagle.
“We believe there are some good things that can happen with that; funding that the governor can tap into and some repealing of certain rules that would allow his agencies to take action.”
The emergency declaration request came the same day that U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) visited Fort Myers to address the issue.
The request also comes just days after the City of Cape Coral began posting warning signs to residents advising them not to swim or eat fish in some of the city’s 400 miles of canals. Similar warning signs were already up in locations along the Caloosahatchee River.
Recent testing conducted on water from the river by the non-profit Calusa Waterkeeper show levels nearly 500 times the recreational safety threshold established by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Additionally, the emergency declaration request cites a growing threat to Southwest Florida’s tourism economy, but Rep. Eagle says it could be worse.
“Fortunately, it’s not during season. We did have this problem two years ago where we had the record rains nearing our season and that was very unfortunate,” said Rep. Eagle. “Now that we’re kind of in the summer, the down times, it’s not as bad as an effect, but it certainly is one that we need to address.”
While plans are in the works for the construction of reservoirs around Lake Okeechobee to hold excess water, those long-term solutions are still years away.
However, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced plans on Thursday to further expedite repairs to the aging Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee, which would allow the lake to hold more water without the threat of a breach. Those plans include the allocation of $514 million in supplemental disaster relief funding from the Office of Management and Budget. That money could allow the Army Corps to complete the Dike’s rehabilitation by 2022 or 2023.