[MARINE_BIOLOGY_INTERNATIONAL] Update: Gov. agency blamed for Caloosahatchee toxin


Gov. agency blamed for Caloosahatchee toxin

Jun 08, 2011 9:42 PM EDT

LEE COUNTY (FL) - Blue-green algae has invaded part of the Caloosahatchee - making the river smell bad, deadly to sea life and hazardous to your health. An environmentalist explained what he thinks may be to blame.

The bacteria forms naturally when the balance of fresh and salt water is disturbed.

But Wednesday night, Kurt Harclerode, the head of Lee County Natural Resources, said the problem is worse than it's been in years.

He blames the South Florida Water Management District.

"This is an environmental disaster. It can be prevented. We need an equal playing field," he said.

Ordinarily, the district releases fresh water from Lake Okeechobee downstream.

But because of an extremely slow start to the rainy season, the lake is now 10-feet above sea level and the SFWMD has held the fresh water hostage for four months while installing pumps to supply freshwater to farm lands.

"It's going to hurt our economy, our tourism. This is unacceptable," Harclerode said.

Officials with the SFWMD say they have a long-standing agreement with stakeholders around the lake and that agricultural users have first dibs of the water over environmental needs.

The Lee County Department of Health spent the afternoon posting advisory signs along the Caloosahatchee and has already issued a warning to stay out of the water.

The bacteria can cause respiratory issues, skin irritation and nausea.

Fish from the river are also not safe to eat.

The only savior is Mother Nature because rain will wash away the algae.

By Sarah Hollenbeck
NBC News

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