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Nancy Smith

Algae Bloom Tests Halt Lake Okeechobee Discharges into St. Lucie Canal

April 24, 2015 - 6:00pm

No water will be discharged from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie Canal until state agencies run tests on a possible blue-green algae bloom just outside the lake at the western end of the St. Lucie Canal, officials have confirmed.

Gov. Rick Scott issued this statement Friday: Today, following reports of harmful blue-green algae blooms in Lake Okeechobee, Ive asked the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to immediately dispatch a team to test water for harmful algae blooms. The Army Corps of Engineers did the right thing by halting their releases this afternoon."

Scott added, "President Obama also needs to live up to his commitment to repair the dike and responsibly manage Lake Okeechobee.

For the first time in three weeks the corps began releasing water again Friday morning from the St. Lucie Canal into the St. Lucie River. Releases were down to a trickle by 5 p.m. as a result of the governor's order.

Randy Smith, a South Florida Water Management District spokesman, said he expects test results to be available by Monday. Working with the DEP, the SFWMD took samples of the bloom within a stone's throw of the big lake, just east of the Port Mayaca lock and dam -- where water is released.

On Wednesday fishermen reported seeing "a large blanket" of algae just on the canal side of the Port Mayaca dam. "I've seen algae before, but never such a big sheet of this gooey stuff sitting right by the lock," Rod Hubbard of Okeechobee told Sunshine State News. "By the time I reported it, DEP knew all about it."

DEP officials have said it's "best not to speculate" what the algae is specifically or how it will affect marine and human life until the results of the tests are in.

State Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said Friday, I just spoke with Col. Dodd of the Army Corps of Engineers and he has ordered the immediate suspension of discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the lagoon and estuary until testing of the recent toxic blue-green algae bloom can be completed. Testing results are expected next week." Negron has been instrumental in helping the Legislature and governor focus on the damaging effects of lake discharges and the Army Corps' management of them.

Negron emphasized theres zero chance of a dike break with the lake level below 13 feet 8 1/2 inches, but a hundred percent chance of damage" when a flood of polluted water is allowed into local rivers.

Nevertheless, the senator said, "I appreciate the Army Corps decision today and hope they will do everything possible to avoid harmful discharges in the future.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith

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