Friday, May 24

‘Harmful’ blue-green algae found in Martin County waterways, health department says

Health officials in Martin County on Friday said recent test results have uncovered harmful blue-green algae in local waterways.

The Florida Department of Health in Martin County said blue-green algal toxins were found in the St. Lucie Canal at the 96th Street Bridge, the St. Lucie River at Four Rivers, and the St. Lucie River at the Palm City Bridge.

SPECIAL SECTION: Protecting Paradise

Water samples were taken from those areas on Monday and Tuesday.

The public is urged not to swim, wade, boat, or use personal watercraft in areas where there’s a visible bloom, and wash your skin and clothes if you come in contact with algae or discolored or smelly water.

Also, keep your pets away from any water with visible algae blooms.

“Blue-green algae blooms can impact human health and ecosystems, including fish and other aquatic animals,” the health department said in a news release.

The newly released test results come one day after U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., called on the Army Corps of Engineers to issue a long-term halt to water discharges from Lake Okeechobee, arguing that’s the only way to prevent the spread of blue-green algae.

“There is no bigger polluter of our community than the United States government,” Mast said during a news conference in Stuart on Thursday. “The Corps of Engineers is the biggest polluter of the Indian River Lagoon, the St. Lucie Estuary, the Treasure Coast. Our government. We pay their salaries with our tax dollars.”

Mast has repeatedly urged Army Corps Col. James Booth to stop the freshwater releases from the lake into the St. Lucie Estuary.

The Army Corps in February began discharging up to one billion gallons of water into estuaries to get lake levels down and prevent flooding. The releases will stop for two weeks starting this weekend ahead of the oyster spawning season.

In a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers on Monday, Mast called the two-week halt “woefully insufficient,” adding that “the only way to prevent another lost summer is a long-term halt.”

“You create the situation of what will become toxic because of what you have turned this estuary into. A freshwater estuary instead of a salt and brackish estuary,” Mast said Thursday. “You destroy the ecosystem for seagrass, for dolphin, for sea turtles, for take your pick.”

Booth told WPTV anchor Michael Williams on Tuesday that after the two-week pause, he anticipated the resuming discharges to be much lower releases.

“Because we’ve seen nearly a foot come off the lake,” Booth said.

An abnormally wet winter has already helped to foster an algae bloom on Lake Okeechobee, fueling fears that the problem will worsen ahead of hotter weather and the rainy season.

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