By Eric Eikenberg
November 3, 2016
Much has been made of the devastating environmental effects of toxic discharges of Lake Okeechobee water into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers, but little has been said about the importance of increased water storage to Florida’s economy.
The untreated water gives rise to regular outbreaks of smelly, slimy algae that has suffocated sea grass and killed game fish, wildlife and even domestic pets that consumed it.
Tests conducted this summer along the St. Lucie River showed levels of microcystin toxins in the algae that were 100-to-1,000 times higher than allowable under normal recreational guidance levels. In humans, microcystin can cause nausea and vomiting if ingested and symptoms of rash or hay fever if touched or inhaled. Ingesting water that contains these toxins can also cause long-term liver disease. If it gets into an open wound, it can lead to an infection.
Small wonder, then, that with the reappearance of the blue-green algae this summer in Martin, St. Lucie and Palm Beach counties along the Atlantic coast and in Lee County on the Gulf, vacations were canceled, hotel and motel rooms went vacant, and restaurants suddenly became empty.
Tourism-related businesses employ 1.2 million people in Florida, and this summer’s blue-green algae outbreaks in 44 different Florida waterways were so severe that Gov. Rick Scott was compelled to declare a state of emergency — twice.
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