Sen. Bill Nelson's letter: The algae in our waters
This is a letter Sen. Bill Nelson released last week:
This toxic green algae in our water is making people sick. It's killing the fish and wildlife that call these waterways home. And it's hurting our economy and the local businesses that rely on the tourists and visitors who typically visit our state - and who are now looking for somewhere else to go.
While we are trying to do everything we can to help those who are most affected by these toxic algae blooms - whether it's trying to get local businesses some much needed tax relief to help them make ends meet, or calling on the CDC to help us understand potential health impacts of algae exposure - it's important to realize that there is no quick fix to this problem. There is no magical solution that will make this algae go away overnight.
This is a problem that's been years in the making - and it's a problem that's going to take years to fix. And anyone who tells you that fixing the dike around Lake Okeechobee will somehow solve this problem is fooling you.
The federal government is responsible for fixing the dike. And for the past 17 years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has spent over $1 billion to strengthen the dike to prevent a massive, catastrophic breach that could kill thousands of people living south of Lake Okeechobee - and we have just authorized an additional $600 million to speed up the completion of the dike by 2022.
The State of Florida, on the other hand, is the one responsible for the quality and cleanliness of the water. For the past eight years our state leaders have repeatedly rolled back environmental standards, eased regulations and dismantled the state's environmental agencies - all of which have allowed more and more pollutants to be dumped into our state's waterways. Our state leaders even passed a law to stop the periodic inspections of leaking septic tanks.
The bottom line is this: more pollution means more algae.
As that pollution sits in our waterways and lakes, baking in the hot summer sun, it turns into the green toxic sludge we see today. And when the water from Lake Okeechobee is released into the nearby estuaries and waterways, the toxic algae goes with it.
It seems like the algae has never been this bad. It's never been this thick. It's never been this toxic. And that's because it's never been this polluted.
That's why Sen. Rubio and I are continuing to urge Congress to approve a massive reservoir project south of Lake Okeechobee that can be used to help store and clean some of the water being released from the lake before it goes into our waterways.
Because, at the end of the day, it all comes down to how dirty the water is when it enters our waterways. That's it. The more polluted the water is in our lakes and other waterways, the worse the algae blooms will be.
So, to truly prevent these algae blooms from reoccurring year after year, we need our state leaders to change course. We need them to start doing the right thing and take the steps needed to keep our waterways clean - instead of the steps they have been taking to allow them to become more polluted.
As a fifth-generation Floridian who grew up on the Indian River, I know how important these waterways are to our community. They are the lifeblood of our economy and I will continue to do everything I can to protect them.