Governor adds Lee County to state of emergency for water problems

Reporter: Lois Thome
Published: Updated:

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Gov. Rick Scott added Lee County to a state of emergency he declared earlier this week because of blue green algae blooms in waterways connected to Lake Okeechobee.

Palm Beach County is also now part of the state of emergency. Three Southwest Florida lawmakers had pressed Scott earlier Thursday to include Lee County because of algae blooms in the Caloosahatchee River.

Scott signed an executive order Wednesday declaring a state of emergency in Martin and St. Lucie counties on the east coast. It allows state and local agencies to take swift action to mitigate the spread of the blooms in estuaries by redirecting the flow of water in and out of Lake Okeechobee.

State Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto (R—Fort Myers), Rep. Matt Caldwell (R-North Fort Myers), and Rep. Ray Rodrigues (R- Estero) said Lee County should have access to the same resources as Martin and St. Lucie counties.

“Gov. Scott showed by adding Lee County to the declaration that he understands the devastating effects that Lake Okeechobee releases are having on our river and estuary,” Benaquisto said in a follow-up statement. “Thanks to this declaration, Lee County will have state resources such as increased and faster testing, a dedicated algae bloom hotline, and more focus on additional storage options, as well as an increased focus on finding near-term solutions. I will continue to work to reduce the discharges that the Army Corps of Engineers sends to our community from Lake Okeechobee.”

Scott is also directing the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to address the issues caused by blooms.

In a prepared statement Wednesday, Scott also called on the federal government to approve permits for Florida’s dispersed water management programs.

Benaquisto told WINK News that the federal government should fund projects akin to a state initiative that requires the legislature to dedicate $200 million annually for Everglades restoration to reduce freshwater releases.

She also called upon leaders to address flows north of the lake and said adding Lee County to the state of emergency would allow for faster testing of foul water and help the state demand changes to water releases. The South Florida Water Management District decided later Thursday to store more water north of the lake.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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