Herald-Tribune

February 15, 2017

 

Buchanan leads meeting on Florida water issues

By Staff Report

 

http://www.heraldtribune.com/news/20170215/buchanan-leads-meeting-on-florida-water-issues

 

Thirteen members of Florida's congressional delegation from both parties heard about the harmful impact of red tide and toxic algae on the state's environment and economy in a meeting led by U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

"Red tide should be an inconvenience, not a crisis," said Dr. Richard P. Stumpf, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Stumpf discussed improving forecasting for red tide and getting more information to the public. Red tide produces a toxin that can harm and kill a variety of animals, including birds, fish, sea turtles and marine mammals such as dolphins and the endangered Florida manatee.

It can also have devastating effects on humans as shellfish in red tide areas can cause poisoning.

A red tide bloom has persisted off Southwest Florida's coast since fall. Conditions have varied, along with the weather, sometimes intensifying and waning, from Tampa Bay to Lee and Collier counties.

On Wednesday, according to Mote Marine Laboratory's beach monitoring website, the beaches were clear on Anna Maria Island, while at Lido Key the air caused slight respiratory irritation. Siesta Key had some dead fish but no respiratory irritation. Nokomis Beach, the North Jetty at Venice and Manasota Beach reported no dead fish and slight respiratory irritation. Venice Beach also had some dead fish and slight respiratory irritation.

Others at the meeting included Army Corps of Engineers Lt. Col. Jennifer A. Reynolds and Sarasota Mayor Willie Shaw.

Shaw discussed the economic and environmental impact of beach erosion and the need for renourishment. He said the coastline is not only essential to the quality of life in Sarasota, but also serves as a "shield against disasters." Lido Key Beach, Shaw said, has a $151 million annual impact on the economy.

"Without renourishment we lose. We lose as a city, we lose as a state," Shaw said.

Reynolds shared with members how critical it is to release waters from Lake Okeechobee ahead of storms, noting that in 2016 the lake had 1 trillion gallons of water enough to cover the state of Delaware in two feet of water.

Last summer record amounts of toxic algae wreaked havoc across Florida, producing a bloom so large it was visible from space. The blue-green, guacamole-thick algae, also known as cyanobacteria, forced many Floridians to wear masks near the water and some complained of skin rashes, headaches and respiratory issues, according to reports.

This was the first meeting of the 29-member bipartisan Florida congressional delegation in 2017, including U.S. Reps. Neal Dunn, Gus Bilirakis, Darren Soto, John Rutherford, Francis Rooney, Charlie Crist, Al Lawson, Ted Yoho, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Frederica Wilson, Brian Mast and Lois Frankel.

"Let's get the politics out of this and make a difference," said Buchanan, who co-chairs Florida's congressional delegation with Rep. Alcee Hastings. "We should be doing all we can to preserve the natural beauty of our state's beaches and waterways. Coasts, lakes and rivers are key contributors to Florida's thriving economy and serve as a vital habitat for plants and wildlife."

Buchanan represents Sarasota, Manatee and part of Hillsborough counties.

"We need to find bipartisan solutions to keep our waters clean," Buchanan said. "Our state's residents and visitors are depending on us."