Talk of the Town: South Florida faces algae-geddon

When many people in the Palm Beaches think of the Fourth of July holiday weekend, their thoughts turn to celebrating our nation’s independence at the beach, enjoying time with friends and family, and watching amazing fireworks.

IMG_1206Unfortunately, many families had their beach plans scrubbed this weekend as a large bloom of blue-green algae spread from the shores of Lake Okeechobee, down the St. Lucie River and C-51 canal, and onto our local beaches. The beaches in Martin and St. Lucie counties faired the worst, with Bathtub Beach still remaining off limits to swimmers. However, the Palm Beaches were not immune from this natural phenomenon.

On Friday, a warning was issued for the incredibly popular Peanut Island and surrounding beaches, leaving many to change their boating and snorkeling plans. Even the city of Lake Worth, and their famous raft race, was cancelled. The aptly named “grunge trophy” will stay in it’s case for another year!

While the original response from the state and federal government can best be characterized as slow, after numerous protests in Martin County, a state of emergency was issued for Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie and Lee Counties. This action enables federal and state funds to assist in recovery efforts, and might even spark the changes to the flow of discharges from Lake O that are one of the primary factors in the crisis.

On Thursday, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) urged the Army Corps of Engineers to take immediate action, including stopping discharges from Lake Okeechobee, to help Florida’s Treasure Coast, which is currently experiencing an overgrowth of “blue-green algae.” In a letter to Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy, Rubio expressed his grave concerns regarding health implications and harm to the ecosystems, which Floridians rely for both environmental and economic benefits. He also extended an invitation for the assistant secretary to visit the area.

Rubio visited the Treasure Coast this Friday to tour the region and examine the problem firsthand.

There [are] a number of things that can happen immediately,” Rubio said. “Number one is I hope we can convince the Corps to perhaps even stop flows for a short period of time to allow water through here to kind of flush itself out. Second is get an emergency declaration from the President so that we can have some more assistance available to local business owners in the local community.

“Third is to get the CDC or an appropriate healthcare agency at the federal level to come down and do an assessment of the long-term health risks posed by this algae bloom,” Rubio continued. “The fourth thing is, we want to continue to move forward to get that water bill passed so the Central Everglades Planning Project can move forward and some of these key components that we’ve discussed here today can actually happen.”

People will debate until they are blue (or possibly blue-green) in the face as to what the true cause of the problem is, who is to blame, and what we can do to solve it. It is a multi-faceted issue that requires dialogue on the local, state, and national level, between public and private entities who don’t usually get along well. However, what they should be able to agree on is that it is a problem, and will harm our local economy in the short and long term.

Unless something is done soon, we will lose our way of life forever, and will see our beaches, waterways, wildlife, and finally ourselves die off in the process. Something must be done soon, or it will be too late!