Space & Innovation

Florida Declares State of Emergency Over Algae Bloom

Massive bloom covers 33 square miles of Lake Okeechobee.

<p>NASA Earth Observatory / Joshua Stevens</p>

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency in counties along the state's east coast, because of a massive algae bloom from Lake Okeechobee that's spread into the St. Lucie River.

The blue-green algae, AKA cyanobacteria, has the pungent aroma of manure, is highly toxic, according to tests run by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and it poses a health threat to animals, plants and humans.

RELATED: Harmful Algae Blooms Intoxicate Marine Mammals

Angry residents, fishermen and business owners are complaining that the problem is being spread by the Army Corps of Engineers' practice of releasing water from Lake Okeechobee into the river to prevent the water level from creating potentially damaging pressure on the lake's aging earthen dike, the Miami Herald has reported.

Rainfall and runoff has caused the lake's water levels to rise more than a foot since May.

The lake's waters are contaminated by runoff, some of it from human waste leaking from homeowners' septic tanks, according to the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.

RELATED: Giant Algae Bloom in Lake Erie in 2014

Gov. Scott has announced that he'll ask the Florida legislature to appropriate money for grants to homeowners who are willing to switch to central sewer systems. He also pledged to set aside funding in 2017 for communities who want to build wastewater treatment systems. Those areas would receive up to a 50 percent state match on whatever investment they make in wastewater management.

It's unclear, though, how much those measures might cost, or whether Scott will find the necessary political support.

Intensive use of fertilizers in the region is another factor in the lake's contamination, according to Discover.

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