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Finding solutions to algae; how green gunk is affecting health, tourism

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Drone footage of algae in Cape Coral canal on July 25, 2018. Credit: WINK News

Inside the Department of the Interior, task force members saw picture’s of Southwest Florida’s interior waterwats, canals and marinas covered in toxic algae.

“This is the worst conditions I’ve ever seen,” said Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane. “The difference is when you are the mayor of a small town like Sanibel, you don’t walk any place where someone doesn’t talk to you about the water.”

Ruane and several others charged water managers to explore every opportunity to move more water south.

“There is infrastructure set up to let water go south presently right now and if we’re in a state of emergency like our governor has declared then why aren’t we using all manners necessary?” asked John Heim, of the South Florida Clean Water Movement.

Rep. Brian Mast refers to his home district along the treasure coast as Florida’s tortured coast.

“All of this is about managing risk, but we’re keeping the lake at an artificially high state,” Mast said.

Much like the economy in Southwest Florida, his east coast communities depend on hotels, restaurants and recreation — all of which depend on clean water.

“This is a detriment to communities and they share in problems they had no role in creating and that’s not right,” Mast said.

Mast said the Army Corps of Engineers need to change the way it manages the lake level in the dry season.

Since they’re a federal agency, does congress have the ability to force their hand and stop the releases?

This is something that Congress doesn’t have the ability to say this ends immediately,” Mast said. “These are things that have to be worked through in law on a number of committees.”/

Mast added more on the Army Corps’ role.

“The corp of engineers has jurisdiction to say when there’s instances of pollution and things like that, they can adjust what they’re doing, something they need to exercise especially when we’re talking about a lake that’s covered 90 percent in algal blooms, that is a perfect opportunity to exercise that authority,” Mast said.

The Army Corps said it will begin to reevaluate how it makes its decisions to discharge before the end of the year.

“The thought is you stop the flow out of the lake and you will stop introducing algae into the waterways, but South Florida is in hurricane season,” said Ricky R.D. James, assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works . “The Corps has to pay particular attention to that and not hold too much in the lake for fear of Lake Okeechobee getting too high, breaking the levees and killing people.”

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