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Measures That Would Help Address Florida's Harmful Algal Blooms Remain Stalled In Congress

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TOM JAMES - WWW.PELICANMEDIA.TV
A blue-green algae bloom at the Alva Boat Ramp outside Fort Myers on June 25, 2018.

Florida is waiting on Congress to authorize two efforts that could help address algal blooms plaguing the state's coastal and inland waterways.

Read more: Toxic Algae Blooms in Fort Lauderdale's Waterways

Congressional authorization expires Sunday for legislation that helps communities cope with harmful algae blooms. The Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act enables the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, and an inter-agency task force to do things like monitor algae blooms, research their causes and give grants to communities trying to cope. A lapse in authorization wouldn't eliminate the program, but it would make it less likely that Congress would continue to fund it.

Simultaneously, Florida leaders and environmental groups are calling on the Senate to vote on a bill that includes plans for a water storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. That reservoir would reduce the need for lake water discharges that contribute to blue-green algae outbreaks.

The lack of action is jeopardizing Floridians' health and the state's economy, according to elected officials who have written letters asking Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring the Water Resources Development Act forward for a vote.

"Dogs have passed away as a result of coming into contact with this water," Congressman Brian Mast told WLRN in an interview on Monday. "That's very much a case of a canary in a coal mine. ... These are waterways meant for the recreation of human beings."

Read more: As Climate Warms, Algae Blooms In Drinking Water Supplies

Mast, whose district runs from north of Fort Pierce into north Palm Beach County, announced new legislation earlier this month to guide the federal government's response to high lake water levels. Last week, he published a new letter to McConnell. Mast's opponent in the 2018 Congressional race, Lauren Baer, has criticized Mast for doing "too little, too late."

Sen. Bill Nelson, Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. Rick Scott are among other state leaders who have pushed for the Senate to vote on the bill.