U.S. Congressman Brian Mast (FL-18)’s South Florida Clean Coastal Waters Act passed the House Science, Space and Technology Committee on Wednesday. The bipartisan bill amends existing federal law aimed at combatting harmful algal blooms to require the first-ever specific federal assessment and action plan to reduce harmful algal blooms in Florida.
“Since introducing this bill, we have made great progress toward bringing real operational change to the way Lake Okeechobee is managed. Thanks to our efforts to lower Lake Okeechobee this winter, our communities are being spared toxic discharges that contain harmful algal blooms this summer,” Rep. Mast said. “But the reality is that these algal blooms on Lake O are still toxic. It’s ridiculous that a federal program specifically designed to combat harmful algal blooms has never done an Everglades-specific analysis. So that’s exactly what we’re going to do with this bill: the first-ever specific federal action plan to combat harmful algal blooms in Florida.”
The bill amends the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act, which was reauthorized in late 2018 by legislation written by Rep. Mast and Former Senator Bill Nelson (FL).Under the direction of this existing federal law, the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science have developed numerous reports over the last two decades researching harmful algal blooms in the Gulf of Mexico, the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River and nationally; however, there has never been an Everglades-specific report.
The South Florida Clean Coastal Waters Act directs the task force to complete an assessment that examines the causes, consequences and potential approaches to reduce harmful algal blooms and hypoxia in the Greater Everglades region, including how ongoing South Florida ecosystem restoration efforts are impacting the distribution of algal blooms. Based on the assessment, the task force is then directed to submit a plan to Congress for reducing, mitigating and controlling harmful algal blooms in the Greater Everglades region.
“As Floridians, water is integral to our way of life,” Rep. Waltz said. “I’m thankful for the leadership of Rep. Mast, Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. Ron DeSantis, who have all made clean water a priority. This is a statewide issue affecting many areas in Florida, including the St. Johns River in my district and the Indian River Lagoon. If we want to keep our waterways beautiful, we must act to protect them.”
The next step in the process is for the legislation to be brought before the full House of Representatives for a vote. The bill has also been introduced in the Senate by Senator Marco Rubio (FL).
“Communities across Florida continue to be impacted by harmful algae bloom outbreaks. Congress must act to focus federal resources on understanding both our blue-green algae and red tide problems, as well as developing an Action Plan with the state to help develop a roadmap to solve these challenges,” Sen. Rubio said. “I commend Congressman Mast, who is leading the companion bill to my South Florida Clean Coastal Waters Act, Congressman Waltz, and members of the House Science, Space, & Technology Committee for taking action so that we can meet these challenges with the resources they require.”
This progress comes on the heels of several major advances that will help protect Florida from harmful algal blooms:
- In May, after urging from Rep Mast, the EPA announced a new standard that any level of microcystin above 8 parts per billion is considered unsafe for human contact.
- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently conducting research and development on technology to clean harmful algal blooms out of our waterways using funding secured by Rep. Mast in the 2018 Water Resources Development Act.
- For the first time ever, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers acknowledged to Rep. Mast that they have knowingly discharged toxic water to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee.