As we enter the rainy summer season in Southwest Florida, I am working diligently to ensure that we prevent harmful algal blooms (HABs), which devastated our coastal communities last summer, from happening in the future. There are several steps that we are taking to fix this crisis.
First, I have introduced bipartisan legislation to amend the Stafford Act to include algal blooms in the definition of a “major disaster.” This change would position FEMA to intervene after an algae outbreak. The health of our Southwest Florida waterways and ecosystems is vital to our
economy – in addition the physical harm to people living in proximity to toxic algae is of great concern.
We must make every effort possible to mitigate harmful effects of red tide and toxic
algae and we must also take the steps necessary to eliminate the root causes of these outbreaks – our water quality. Second, I am continuing to focus efforts on Everglades
restoration and the projects associated, which will create a permanent fix to our water quality and algal bloom problems.
Over the past two years, we have been successful in securing a record $115 million for Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) projects in the FY 2019 budget. In total, nearly $1.1 billion has been appropriated for repairs to the Herbert Hoover
Dike and CERP projects in FY 2018 and FY 2019. Thanks to these efforts, the dike will be complete by 2022 instead of the end of the decade.
Every year saved completing these repairs is a year that harmful releases into our ecosystem will stop sooner. I will continue to unite our Florida delegation and bring House leadership to Southwest Florida to see the watershed first hand, and in addition to funding, will work to address the Lake Okeechobee Release Schedule (LORS) – which determines water levels within Lake Okeechobee and when releases of water into
the Caloosahatchee River will occur.
Third, I have sent a letter to Director Redfield of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) asking for information and research on the short- and long-term health effects related to exposure to toxic algae. Last summer, heavy rainfall and a tropical
depression generated massive discharges from Lake Okeechobee causing harmful algal bloom outbreaks throughout our local waterways.
We must ensure we understand the health impacts of HABs to mitigate the issues related to future outbreaks. This will require determination and new procedures, and the taxpayers deserve immediate action. Finally, I have convened a roundtable meeting with the directors and administrators of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Oceanography and Atmospheric Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency on the damaging impact of Harmful Algal Blooms.
In addition to these federal agencies, I also reached out to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Division of Emergency Management and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity to join the discussions. There is nothing more important to the economic and ecological vitality of Southwest Florida than our water quality. I will continue fighting to protect and restore our most precious treasure
Francis Rooney is the U.S. Representative for Florida’s 19th Congressional District. He is the Vice-Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and serves on the Committee on Education and the Workforce. He previously served as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See under President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2008.
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