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Sen. Nelson Urges Passage of Harmful Algae Bloom Bill

John Davis, WGCU

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, was in Fort Myers Friday updating local officials and environmental advocates about the progress of his bill aimed at combating harmful algae blooms. 

Sen. Nelson has been working to pass a measure that would provide $82 million dollars to research and combat harmful algal blooms.  “The algae bloom bill will be worth about $20 million a year for several years in grants for research in trying to find what we can do to counter the harmful health effects of algae blooms,” Nelson told a room full of local officials and environmental advocates.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s Director of Natural Resource Policy, Jennifer Hecker was among those who traveled to Washington D.C. last year to testify about conditions caused by algae blooms.  “The toxins emitted by these harmful algae blooms are not only unsafe for marine life but provide, unfortunately, risks to human health,” said Hecker.  “So I think that’s something we’re really reaching out to decision makers to help them understand the public health concerns and how serious this is.  How this could affect our economy with tourists and residents getting sick.”

Harmful algal blooms plagued the region’s coast last summer.  Excess rainfall last year prompted increased releases of nutrient laden water from Lake Okeechobee down the Caloosahatchee River and that’s believed to be a contributing factor.

The House approved the Senate bill Monday with some amendments. Now an anonymous GOP senator has blocked the measure from passing in the senate.  Nelson said reauthorizing the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act is critical to the region’s tourism-driven economy and the health of natural ecosystems. Nelson said he doesn’t believe the objection from his unidentified Senate colleague is substantive because the measure had passed in the Senate with unanimous support in February.

“I don’t think there is an objection,” said Nelson.  “I think somebody just got a burr under their saddle.”

This move comes on the heels of President Obama signing the Water Resources Reform and Development Act on Tuesday.  That law includes $800 million for Caloosahatchee River and Everglades restoration projects.  Florida lawmakers included 18 million in the state budget  for the C-43 reservoir to store freshwater flowing from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee during the rainy season, and to maintain healthy water flow during the dry season.

Nelson says he confident he can resolve any differences standing in the way of the bill’s passage in the coming week. 

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