D.C. lawmakers get look at murky water, algae

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — A Southwest Florida environmental advocacy group is taking samples of murky water and algae from Southwest Florida to Washington, D.C. on Thursday to give members of Congress a firsthand look at issues that have plagued the Caloosahatchee River.

This comes in the wake of test results released late Wednesday from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection that revealed low levels of toxicity in algae sampled near Cape Coral Yacht Club last week.

Jennifer Hecker, director of natural resource policy for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, spent Wednesday morning in downtown Fort Myers collecting water samples from the Caloosahatchee.

“We haven’t seen it completely manifest itself yet like on the east coast, but what we’re concerned about is we’re creating the ripe conditions for that to occur,” Hecker explained.

The water collected, along with algae that washed ashore on Sanibel, is destined for the nation’s capital, where the conservancy will show the samples to representatives in hopes of raising awareness and sparking federal action.

“The blue-green algae that we’re seeing, those can produce toxins,” Hecker said, “Harmful not only to marine life, but also to human health.”

Experts say it could get worse unless freshwater discharges from Lake Okeechobee are sent south to the Everglades. More than 10,000 people have signed the Now or Neverglades Declaration to put pressure on lawmakers to act.

“Every time I see those images of the blue-green algae and the pollution in our waterways, it just recharges my battery in terms of wanting to make sure that I get the message out that this is what we need to do,” said State Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, one of several heading to Washington to meet with U.S. Rep. Curt Clawson and others.

Gov. Rick Scott extended a state of emergency over water woes to Lee County in June, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shortly thereafter reduced flows from Lake Okeechobee in hopes of lessening the effects of agricultural runoff that fosters algal blooms. Scott has since called upon the federal government to declare its own state of emergency over the matter.

“We need every level of government to step up and address their respective responsibilities and obligations towards fixing this crisis,” Hecker added. “We want to make sure that we control this before it escalates.”

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