Algae and red tide recovery efforts ramp up

Lee Herald Favicon 16Additional money is being allocated and regulations are being suspended in an effort to speed the cleanup of algae and red tide that have been plaguing the shores of Southwest Florida.

Governor Rick Scott announced that an additional $400,000 in grant money would be awarded to Lee County by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for the cleanup of area waterways. Lee was one of the seven counties who was made eligible for $3 million in grants that had been set aside for the project after a state of emergency was declared by the governor. The new funds combine with the original $700,000 allocated to the county for a total $1.1 million to help remove algae from the Caloosahatchee and pick up the dead fish caused by the resulting red tide.

“I am using my executive authority to provide additional funding to allow communities in Lee County to better clean our waterways,” said Scott. “We will continue to implement real solutions to help our local communities deal with both the algal issues caused by federal water discharges from Lake Okeechobee and this year’s red tide bloom.”

Lee County has already used a portion of the money to begin a pilot program that is attempting to clean the algae from waterways connected to the Caloosahatchee. The initial focus has been on Cape Coral, where large piles of the blue green algae masses are building up in the canal system. The Fortune 500 engineering company AECOM has been brought in to separate the liquids from the solids and treat the water at the North Lee County Reverse Osmosis Plant. County Manager Roger Desjarlais warned that while the cleanup has begun, no one has ever attempted an algae removal operation on this scale before, and that it may take time.

“It is important to remember that this is a test project,”said Desjarlais. “It will look very different from efforts such as Hurricane Irma debris pick-up.”

The county has also provided multiple dumpsters for local residents who need to dispose of dead fish caused by red tide. In addition, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has suspended some restrictions in order to speed the cleanup of dead fish due to the impact of the red tide.

“Having lived in south Florida for many years, I know how impactful these naturally occurring red tide events can be to local communities,” said FWC Executive Director Eric Sutton. “We are actively working with local authorities in the most impacted areas and stand ready to provide assistance to local communities.”

Federal assistance may also be on the way, as Congressman Francis Rooney is lobbying for the White House to declare a state of emergency for Southwest Florida and activate federal agencies that would be able to help with the cleanup.

“The devastation we are experiencing in Southwest Florida is severely impacting our health, economy and ecology,” said Rooney in a statement on Monday. “Dead sea life, toxic algae, and red tide are crippling our area and although we are finally, thanks to our combined efforts, seeing progress on funding projects that will permanently fix our water quality, these projects will take years to complete. As conditions have worsened, we need to take action now.”

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