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Florida lawmakers consider proposal to combat harmful algae blooms

Under the bill, the Department of Environmental Protection to prioritize technologies that remove algae blooms and reduce the amount of nitrate in the water

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Following a year that saw Florida's water quality at the center of three separate crises, state lawmakers are moving forward with a proposal that would direct money towards combatting harmful algae blooms.

Members of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday voted favorably for a bill (SB 834) that requires the Department of Environmental Protection to prioritize obtaining technologies that remove algae blooms and reduce the amount of nitrate in the water. DEP would also be required to use the technology to improve water quality in freshwater bodies. 

Last month, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced his budget proposal for the state's budget next year would include $35 million toward combatting harmful algae blooms. The governor also announced $481 million in awards for water quality projects across Florida. That would cover more than 100 projects that would help reduce the total amount of nitrogen in Florida's waterways by more than 700,000 pounds per year, according to the governor's office. 

Algae blooms have been attributed to the record-breaking die-off of manatees across the state this year. So far in 2021, more than 1,000 sea cows deaths have been reported in Florida, shattering the previous high. That represents more than 10 percent of the state's estimated manatee population.

Researchers say manatees have been starving due to a lack of food in the Indian River Lagoon caused by repeated algae blooms. The lagoon had long provided a habitat for manatees year-round, which especially helped them during the cold, winter months.

Anyone who sees a distressed, injured or dead manatee should report it to the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922.