State Scrambles to Address Dangerous Algae Blooms

( – Lake Okeechobee is one of the most important waterways in Florida. It’s a key component of the water supply in the state, and it’s part of the Greater Everglades. Currently, it’s in crisis.

Toxic algae blooms are covering much of the 730-square-mile lake. The blooms are fed by the phosphorus-based fertilizers used on the farmlands surrounding the body of water. In 2022, the area was slammed by Hurricane Ian, a Category 4 storm that pummeled the state. The tropical cyclone caused massive waves, which turned up the bottom of the lake where layers of nitrogen and phosphorus had long settled.

The pollution in the lake, coupled with a record heat wave hitting the state, has created a perfect environment for algae to flourish. This has happened before. In 2017, Hurricane Irma slammed into the state. The storm was one of the reasons a red tide event took hold for almost two years. A University of South Florida study found the post-Irma algae bloom cost the state more than $184 million, but the indirect costs might have totaled three times that amount. Photos of a massive fish kill resulting from that bloom spread across the internet, and Floridians dealt with months of watery eyes, rancid smells, and respiratory issues.

This time around, people are once again experiencing respiratory issues around Lake Okeechobee. More than half of it is suffering from blooms. People downstream of the lake, where the water would flow if the Army Corp of Engineers has to release it, are bracing themselves. Eve Samples, executive director of Friends of the Everglades, told The New York Times, “We’re looking at a bullet in the chamber here.”

Other parts of the state are grappling with algae, too. About 100 miles west of Lake Okeechobee is Lake Manatee. Officials in Manatee County recently warned residents that an algae bloom is impacting the water supply of nearly 400,000 people. Some people in the area have complained their water smells and tastes like dirt. County officials have assured residents it remains safe to drink.

With months left of algae season, it appears the state is in for a long, smelly summer.

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