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Gov. Rick Scott Declares State Of Emergency Over Blue-Green Algae Blooms

Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in Martin and St. Lucie Counties in light of the blue-green algae blooms that have invaded local waterways and coastal areas.

The move, on Wednesday evening, comes just hours after Martin County Commissioners declared a state of local emergency and called on the governor to take action

Commissioners signed their order early Wednesday, following Tuesday's emergency meeting to discuss water conditions in the St. Lucie River and the harmful effects freshwater discharges from Lake Okeechobee continue to have on marine life, businesses, tourism, health and more. 

UPDATE: June 30 — Gov. Scott expanded his declaration to include Lee and Palm Beach counties.  

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers discharges overflow water from Lake Okeechobee into canals that lead to local rivers and estuaries. The process doesn’t allow water to be stripped of nitrogen and other nutrients from the lake, and it upsets the balance of salt and freshwater critical to the estuaries and lagoon.

Heavy rain has only worsened the problem as of late, with blue-green algae—some testing as toxic—rapidly spreading. Also called cyanobacteria, blue-green algae “multiply quickly in water bodies with high nutrient levels such as phosphorous or nitrogen, and particularly when the water is warm and the weather is calm,” according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. 

Over the weekend, four beaches—Stuart, Jensen, Hobe Sound and the newly reopened Bathtub Reef Beach—were flying double red flags, warning swimmers not to go in the water. Stuart public beach and Bathtub Reef Beach were closed on Wednesday afternoon, according to the Martin County Ocean Rescue hotline. 

Blue-green algae blooms have also been spotted south in Palm Beach County

In a statement released Wednesday evening, Scott said: "Florida’s waterways, wildlife and families have been severely impacted by the inaction and negligence of the federal government not making the needed repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike and Florida can no longer afford to wait." 

His office noted the governor's call to action involves: 

Gov. Scott is directing DEP to take the following actions:

  • Deploy teams of additional staff to more rapidly survey and sample areas impacted by algal blooms.
  • Purchase On-Site Microsystin Testing Kits which allow field staff to perform faster, preliminary tests for toxins on site. These kits will provide information about the sampled algae more quickly and allow preliminary health advisories to be issued.
  • Launch a Bloom Reporting Hotline. DEP will be establishishing a hotline for citizens to call to report algal blooms, allowing staff to quickly respond to areas with a suspected bloom.

Gov. Scott is directing FWC to take the following action:

  • Continue deploying FWC Research Institute staff to survey and sample any suspected blooms offshore. At this time, no offshore blooms have been confirmed.

Gov. Scott is directing the South Florida Water Management District take the following actions:

  • Store additional water north of Lake Okeechobee in the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes.
  • Work with state and community partners to explore every opportunity to increase water flowing south from Lake Okeechobee.
  • Store additional water through dispersed water storage projects.

Martin County's local state of emergency—in effect for seven days—maintains that blue-green algae "poses a danger to health, life, property and the economic well-being of Martin County residents." 

The declaration allows the county to "waive the procedures and formalities otherwise required by law" to take "whatever action is necessary to ensure the health, safety and welfare of the community," as well employ permanent and temporary workers, rent equipment, and spend public funds, among other things. 

(Image above shows Port Mayaca, Lake Okeechobee. Photo by Jason Nuttle.)