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Feds halt Lake O discharges after Florida pols sound alarm

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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shut off discharges from Lake Okeechobee after claims of an algae bloom in waters coming from the lake.

The federal agency discharges water to prevent weakening the Herbert Hoover Dike around the lake. But the nutrient-rich discharges can cause algal blooms that smother aquatic life in Indian River Lagoon and the Caloosahatchee River.

“I have personally seen video and photos confirming that water adjacent to Lake Okeechobee is currently experiencing a toxic blue-green algae bloom,” state Sen. Joe Negron, a Republican from Stuart, said Friday in a news release.

He said there was no reason to be discharging water because the dike was not at risk.

The Corps of Engineers said Thursday it was releasing more water because of concerns that above-average rainfall in May and June could raise lake levels. But after Negron and U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, a Democrat from Palm Beach County, separately sounded alarms over the releases, the Corps said it was temporarily suspending flows to the St. Lucie River.

“The Corps wants to get additional information on the bloom and review options,” said Col. Alan Dodd, Jacksonville District commander. “We are working in partnership with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and South Florida Water Management District to gather information and will make another water management decision on flows early next week.”

Gov. Rick Scott said he had asked DEP to send a team to test the water for harmful algae.

“The Army Corps of Engineers did the right thing by halting their releases this afternoon,” Scott said in a statement. “President (Barack) Obama also needs to live up to his commitment to repair the dike and responsibly manage Lake Okeechobee.”

Obama visited the Everglades on Wednesday to highlight concerns about climate change during an Earth Day address.

Environmentalists want the state to exercise an option to buy 46,800 acres of U.S. Sugar Corp. land for water treatment and storage but Scott said he is focused on other projects that he says are making a difference.

Bruce Ritchie (@bruceritchie) covers environment, energy and growth management in Tallahassee. 

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