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CDC receives $1 million to tackle Florida’s toxic algae crisis

The problem continues to be a leading election issue.

Algae blooms that come mostly from the controlled discharges of water from Lake Okeechobee are seen along the W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam that helps control the Caloosahatchee river on July 10, 2018 in Alva, Florida. CREDIT: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Algae blooms that come mostly from the controlled discharges of water from Lake Okeechobee are seen along the W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam that helps control the Caloosahatchee river on July 10, 2018 in Alva, Florida. CREDIT: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Floridians suffering from the devastating impacts of an ongoing toxic algae crisis plaguing the state are set to see some relief, even as Florida continues to grapple with the ongoing environmental disaster.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will receive $1 million to aid Florida communities plagued by blue-green toxic algae blooms, although notably not those impacted by red tide. That funding follows a fight by the state’s senators, Marco Rubio (R) and Bill Nelson (D), to ensure relief for Florida, where residents have struggled to deal with the crisis.

The U.S. Senate spending bill that passed on Tuesday sets aside money to tackle the issue, with special priority given to areas that have declared a state of emergency over the algae within the past year. At present, that distinction includes 13 counties in Florida.

The CDC funding won’t solve Florida’s problems overnight, but advocates are hopeful that the money could help the state to slowly regain its bearings and fight the crisis.

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Rubio spokesperson Olivia Perez-Cubas has previously said that the funding could be used for a number of efforts, including documenting and tracking algae-related illnesses, building programs for reporting the blooms, and expansive public health education campaigns.

The money comes as a relief for Florida, but the issue isn’t going away for the state’s politicians. Algae blooms more broadly have emerged as one of the leading sources of debate in Florida’s tense election cycle, with Nelson going head-to-head on the issue against current Gov. Rick Scott (R), his challenger.

Scott has accused Nelson of giving the federal government too much power over the issue. That accusation stems from statewide concern that some blooms may be linked to Lake Okeechobee, Florida’s largest freshwater lake and home to a considerable amount of algae. When the lake’s waters rise too high, the Army Corps of Engineers releases some of the overflow, allowing the algae to enter the ocean.

That explanation isn’t without merit, but scientists say there are likely a number of factors contributing to the algae. Agricultural runoff has been named as a likely contributor — nutrients found in animal waste allow algae to thrive and grow far beyond their initial potential. And while scientists can’t attribute any one crisis to climate change, virtually all agree that the waters around Florida are warming, further encouraging algal growth.

Scott, a long-time climate skeptic whose campaign has been propelled by fossil fuel interests, is taking heat from advocates over the algae, many of whom say his administration has relaxed environmental regulations and slashed funding for science. The governor notably cut $700 million from Florida’s water management districts during his first term in office.

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During a campaign event on Monday, Scott was chased away by protesters shouting, “Hey hey ho ho, red-tide Rick has got to go!”

The governor’s senate campaign spokesperson downplayed the event and redirected blame to Nelson in a statement made to the Washington Post. Protesters booing Scott told reporters that they saw Scott as indirectly responsible for the algae regardless, thanks largely to his administration’s environmental policies.

While Florida’s algae crisis is unique in its devastation, toxic blooms have been reported elsewhere, including in the Great Lakes. Historically, North Carolina’s hog-manure lagoons have spurred algal growths following hurricanes, something that could happen again following Hurricane Florence.

This piece has been updated to clarify which types of algae blooms will be covered through the funding.