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Florida congressional lawmakers hold meeting on state's water quality woes

Among the topics discussed was the alarming rise in manatee deaths.

WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers from Florida met in Washington D.C. to discuss the state's pressing water quality issues. Some of the topics discussed revolved around the record number of manatee deaths the state is seeing amid worsening algae blooms.

Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan and Democrat Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz originally announced the 29-member state Delegation meeting — the first meeting since Feb. 2020.

Dr. Michael P. Crosby, president and CEO of the Sarasota-based Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, was invited to speak in front of the delegation. He stressed the need for a new seagrass restoration project. Acres of seagrass beds have been dying off over the years in different parts of the state. 

Seagrass acts as the main food source for manatees which have been dying at a record rate this year. The general consensus among marine biologists is many of the mammals are dying of starvation due to increased water pollution fueling algal blooms that kill off seagrass.

The FWC says there have been 988 manatee deaths from Jan. 1 to Oct. 29, 2021, meeting the criteria to be declared an Unusual Mortality Event — one that has been confirmed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

There were 830 manatee deaths in 2013 alone, the previous all-time high that happened following a red tide outbreak, according to The Associated Press.

Another recent water quality crisis that was addressed was the former Piney Point phosphate mining facility. Earlier this year, more than 200 million gallons of wastewater was dumped from a leaking reservoir at the facility and into Tampa Bay.

Wesley R. Brooks, director of federal affairs for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, told lawmakers the department's commitment to closing the facility. 

Last month, FDEP finalized an agreement with a new court-appointed receiver to oversee the closure of the facility.