Aug. 24, 2017
U.S. Rep. Brian Mast calls for federal study, action to stop South Florida algae bloom
STUART — A federal task force that's been studying the cause of algae blooms throughout the nation for 20 years needs to get to work in South Florida, says U.S. Rep. Brian Mast.
The Palm City Republican unveiled Wednesday his proposed bill calling for the first-ever federal assessment and action plan for reducing algae blooms throughout the Greater Everglades, including the St. Lucie River, southern Indian River Lagoon and the Caloosahatchee River.
The South Florida Clean Coastal Waters Act would require a task force set up under a 1998 law to assess "the causes, consequences and potential approaches to reduce harmful algal blooms" and report the findings to Congress and the president within two years.
The task force has done that on algae blooms throughout the country, including the Gulf of Mexico, the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River, Mast said, but there has never been a South Florida-specific report.
The task force has already been authorized in existing legislation, Mast said, and the new bill would simply amend that law to have the task force "pinpoint how algae blooms occur on the Treasure Coast."
"It's about time," Mark Perry, executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society, said at a news conference at Mast's Stuart office. "We've been having algae blooms for years."
But it shouldn't take two years to compile a report, Perry said.
"State and federal agencies have been working on this for years and have volumes of reports," he said. "And we need to take action on this now rather than a couple of years from now."
One of the areas the task force is supposed to examine: how the Army Corps of Engineers' management of Lake Okeechobee water levels affects algae blooms.
Scientists agree the discharge of algae-laden water from Lake O caused last year's massive toxic blue-green algae bloom in the St. Lucie.
Now the possibility of Lake O discharges appears to be back on the table.
So far this summer the lake elevation has been below normal, and the Corps has been sending farmland runoff water from western Martin County west into Lake Orather than east to the St. Lucie River.
Heavy rains expected this week could prompt the Corps to start sending that water east. And a lot of rain during the impending heart of hurricane season could trigger discharges.
Fortunately, a massive algae bloom in the lake has all but disappeared, so the chance of repeating last year's blanket of algae on the St. Lucie seems unlikely.
"Whether there's algae in it or not, that water does not belong" in the St. Lucie River, Mast said. "It hurts our ecosystem."
In April, Mast filed a bill calling for harmful algae blooms caused by "a water transfer carried out by the Corps of Engineers" to be eligible for disaster relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
According to Mast, Gov. Rick Scott's requests that counties affected by the 2016 blooms be declared disasters area would have been OK'd if the bill had been in effect.
Mast's Do No Harm bill doesn't specify how algae blooms would be removed. That would be up to FEMA, he said, adding he would push for using "local resources."
On Aug. 16, Mast said he'll introduce legislation to establish a competition — with prize money — for developing innovative, environmentally safe ways to combat harmful algal blooms.
According to the Harmful Algal Blooms Solutions Act, prize money would come from private donations.
Mast plans to file both his new bills in early September when he returns to Washington, and said he expects both a companion bill to be filed in the Senate and support from fellow South Florida congressmen.