Senate panel OKs $110 million for toxic algae outbreaks

WASHINGTON Legislation earmarking $110 million in federal funding for communities impacted by toxic algae blooms passed the Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday.

The bill allows $22 million per year between 2019 and 2023 to be used towards the effort. Sponsored by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida), the bill now heads to the full Senate.

“Floridians have borne the brunt of recent toxic algae outbreaks, but by law have been unable to qualify for federal help,” Nelson said in a statement. “Algae blooms are more than just a nuisance — it can be an environmental, economic, and public health nightmare that warrants emergency relief.”

The bill allows the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency to declare an algae bloom or hypoxic event as “nationally significant,” which would authorize the use of federal resources. It also commits $10 million over a five-year period for research into the causes of large algae blooms and hypoxia.

Southwest Florida water advocates blamed flows from Lake Okeechobee last year for blue-green algae blooms and brown water in the Caloosahatchee River, which prompted large-scale concerns regarding tourism and water safety.

Gov. Rick Scott recently signed legislation directing money towards speeding up construction of a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee aimed to help reduce algae blooms. The measure was praised by clean water advocates while criticized by those with agricultural interests that believe the reservoir would sacrifice valuable farmland.

U.S. Sugar, initially concerned about the legislation, described the measure as “dramatically improved.”

“It takes essentially no privately-owned farmland out of production, removed the threat of eminent domain for the EAA Reservoir and would build on land already in government ownership,” company spokesperson Judy Sanchez said in a statement. “Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature recognize the importance of protecting our water resources while also protecting our farming communities and vital local food production.”

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