FORT MYERS, Fla. — Water experts from across the state met in a virtual summit to discuss concerns about the current state of Southwest Florida’s waterways.
The concern- a boom in red tide and blue-green algae. The concern has reached a fever pitch that water experts are imploring the Governor to issue an executive order, calling for a state of emergency. They would like to see more flexibility in moving the water south and away from the coasts.
“The last five or six years it just seems like we go from crisis to crisis and so we’re having more of these community outreach meetings, trying to look for solutions," says John Cassani with the Calusa Waterkeeper.
The Calusa Waterkeeper was one of the environmental groups represented during today's summit. He says blue-green algae has been exploding on Lake Okeechobee. Both red tide and blue-green algae are harmful algal blooms, producing toxins.
“Blue-green algae is something that’s a little more insidious- it’s what we call a toxin that affects liver function so you don’t see disease manifest from that, assuming you’ve had chronic exposure perhaps for 10 or 12 years.”
One growing concern is the upcoming rain season, which is only three weeks away. Additional rainfall can elevate Lake O which would force the Army Corps of Engineers to release more water. A state of emergency could not only help prevent this, but provide some help to some hard-hit businesses.
“It could provide incentives for businesses or elements that would enable businesses to function a little better," says Cassani. "It’s not meant to restrict businesses in any way, it’s meant to help them in terms of lost revenue from people not coming here because tourists are afraid of being exposed to these harmful algal blooms.”
Right now, there are court orders that restrict flow based on the concentration of pollutants in water. There are policies and rules that the South Florida Water Management District has that would constrain more water south. A state of emergency would potentially lift those regulations but that power lies with one person.
“The ball is in the governor’s corner on this," said Cassani. "We’re hoping he will move forward quickly with issuing a state of emergency and we’ll just have to wait and see.”
And Cassani said they would only be looking at a few months for the state of emergency. He said if the blooms reach the level to how they were in 2018, it could be for six to eight months.
Meanwhile- Governor Desantis took a helicopter tour this afternoon, going over Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee River and St. Lucie River. He has not issued an executive order.