Governor declares state of emergency over toxic algae blooms

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - For a second time in three years, Governor Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency in response to toxic algae blooms wreaking havoc in water bodies on the state’s east and west coasts.

The blooms are caused by agricultural runoff into Lake Okeechobee that is then released into surrounding bodies of water.

“This hurts bigger than just you can't go in the water,” said Jonathan Webber with Florida Conservation Voters. "This is an economic issue that can hurt families definitely in this important tourist season.”

The order allows the state to store water in additional areas south of the lake rather than release it into canals feeding coastal waters.

Manley Fuller with the Florida Wildlife Federation says it’s a temporary solution to a persistent issue.

“Until we change some of these critical components, every wet year we're going to continue to see these kinds of problems,” said Fuller.

Environmental advocates say Governor Scott’s own policies have played a part in causing the problem they are now trying to solve.

“It's been his administration's mission to dismantle the regulatory agencies that were designed to protect and clean and monitor the water that is in our state,” said Webber.

In response to environmentalist’s attacks Governor Scott’s office issued a statement saying in part, “Under Governor Scott’s leadership, record investments have been made in Florida’s environment, including $4 billion this year alone. The state has also made historic progress with restoration projects that will provide billions of gallons of water storage and clean water for the Everglades and local communities.”

The Lake Okeechobee problem is becoming a key issue in the race for the U.S. Senate.

Both Scott and Senator Bill Nelson visited the affected areas over the last week.

The two candidates have attacked the other on the issue, but Fuller says the problem transcends finger pointing.

“Republican or Democrat, the Everglades needs to be a priority,” said Fuller.

Environmentalists say to stop the blooms policymakers need to focus on Everglades restoration, acquiring lands around the lake and finding ways to reduce agricultural runoff.