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Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) highlighted Florida’s algae bloom problem today during floor remarks in which he also called on Congress to pass the Central Everglades Planning Project.

“The smell is indescribable, the best thing I can use to describe it is as if you opened up a septic tank, or opened sewage in a third world country. That is how nasty this stuff is. By the way, when it dies, it turns this dark green-blue color, and then it becomes even more toxic,” said Rubio.

“When you see a place as naturally beautiful as the Treasure Coast looking and smelling like an open sewer you have a visceral and angry reaction to it. I know that I did,” Rubio continued. “And sadly whenever there are emotional and heated issues like these, people on both sides are willing to exploit them.

“These problems have existed for decades, this didn’t happen overnight. I’ve been a senator for a little less than six years and in my time here we have made steady progress on this issue, but it’s not coming as fast as I would like and it’s not coming as fast as the people of the Treasure Coast need,” added Rubio. “But the worst thing we could do right now is to divert critical resources from a plan that will work. From a plan designed by scientists, from a plan that is designed by experts, that will work. But we have to put that plan in place

“That’s why once again I urge my colleagues to move forward on the Central Everglades Planning Project so we can begin the process of authorizing these important projects that will allow us not just to retain more water, but to see cleaner water going into Lake Okeechobee, cleaner water coming out of Lake Okeechobee, and cleaner water flowing south into the Everglades, the way it should be flowing – not east and west into these impacted communities,” Rubio concluded.

A transcript of Rubio’s full remarks is available below. A video is available here, and a broadcast quality video is available for download here.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio
Senate Floor Speech
July 6, 2016
https://youtu.be/_f-4oqgyagk

Senator Marco Rubio: “As you and others are well-aware, Florida is often associated with its crystal blue waters, its sport and commercial fishing, and its pristine vacation destinations.

“But this summer, a thick and putrid algal bloom known as ‘blue-green algae’ is threatening all of that and much more along large stretches of the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.

“On Friday, I visited the area and can tell you that this is an economic disaster in addition to an ecological crisis. I met many people whose lives have been thrown into turmoil. The algae has forced the closure of several beaches. Even this morning we were hearing reports of a surf camp – kids go out and learn how to surf and paddleboard and so forth, and they sign up in the summer to do this – and they’ve been having either parents cancelling, and in some cases even having to cancel themselves because of this.

“There were beaches closed during the Fourth of July, which is the peak season for many of these resorts and hotels and local businesses. That’s why I say they’ve been thrown into turmoil. Beyond that, this algae bloom is killing fish and oysters, it’s hurting tourism, it’s harming local businesses, and it’s sinking property values.

“Imagine if you just bought a home on the water there, where values are largely tied to access to water and the boat dock. And now you step outside and there is a green slime, a thick green slime that some have compared to guacamole sitting on the surface of the ocean, sitting right there on your porch basically. You can imagine what that’s doing to property values. Parents, of course, viewing all this,  are concerned for the health of their children.

“There are a number of things that we can do to address this immediately… a number of things and I’ve been working to make these things happen.

“Let me describe, first of all, how this is happening. This is happening because nutrient-rich water, basically water that has things in it, like fertilizer, is running into Lake Okeechobee which is at the center at the state. It is the largest inland body of water in the state. Historically, the water that sat in Lake Okeechobee would run southward into the Everglades, but with development and canal systems and so forth, that all stopped.

“So now this water’s held back by a dike, which is put in place to prevent flooding. And when the waters need to be released, they are released east and west. So these waters are already rich in nutrients in Lake Okeechobee and then they’re released into the estuaries and canals which also have nutrients in them because of run-off from faulty and old septic tanks.

“When these things reach the ocean, when they reach the estuaries, when they reach the lagoon, or the lake, or the river, and they get into this heat, the result is what we’re seeing now.

“Last week I wrote the Army Corps of Engineers and urged them to stop the discharges from Lake Okeechobee until the balance and the health of the ecosystem in the area can recover. These discharges have been ongoing since January of this year, which has lowered salinity levels and caused the algae to bloom. 

“I also invited the Assistant Secretary of the Army Corps to visit the area to witness the conditions firsthand.  I was pleased that after my request, the Army Corps announced it would decrease these discharges. But of course, much more needs to be done. 

“My office has also been working with the Small Business Administration for months now on the harmful impacts of the discharges. In April, we were able to ensure disaster loans were made available to businesses suffering from the discharges. Just yesterday we were able to confirm that the disaster loans will apply to those currently affected by the current algal blooms. 

“Perhaps the most important long-term solution that we can put in place is the need for the Senate and the House to pass and the President to sign the authorization for the Central Everglades Planning Project. 

“The Central Everglades Planning Project will divert these harmful discharges away from the coastlines and send more water south through the Everglades.

“This is a project I had hoped would have been authorized in the last Water Resources bill in 2014, but delays by the Administration in releasing the final Chief’s report prevented that from happening in 2014.

“Thanks to the leadership of Chairman Inhofe, the Central Everglades Planning Project is included in the EPW committee reported Water Resources Development Act of 2016. 

“Last week, I joined 29 of my colleagues in urging our leaders to bring this important bill before the full Senate. 

“I plan to continue this support, and hope we are able to get the Central Everglades Planning Project signed into law as soon as possible.

“Finally, we also need to know the long-term health risks posed by this algal bloom.

“I mentioned a moment ago that many parents are concerned about the safety of their kids as they play outside this summer.

“Let me tell you why they are concerned.  The algae I saw lining the shores and in the coves and inlets – it will literally make you sick.  There are people complaining of headaches, and rashes and respiratory issues.

“At Central Marine in Stuart you could not stand outside near the water and breathe the air without literally feeling sick. The smell is indescribable, the best thing I can use to describe it is as if you opened up a septic tank, or opened sewage in a third world country. That is how nasty this stuff is. By the way, when it dies, it turns this dark green-blue color, and then it becomes even more toxic.

“No one knows how to remove it. No one knows what’s going to happen to it after it dies, excect it’s going to sit there.

“That’s why my office has been in contact with the Centers for Disease Control, which has been working with state officials, and I’ve requested they keep me informed and remain vigilant in their efforts to assist those impacted by the algae.

“This is truly a crisis for the state of Florida, but we are fortunate that Florida is well equipped to handle this issue, and I’ve spoken to the governor and key officials on the ground about this.

“This will continue to be a joint effort by the federal and state government.  Should the governor decide this warrants a federal disaster declaration, I will urge the president to approve it, and that means that more resources could flow to those who have been negatively impacted by this, especially small businesses who have themselves in the peak season truly been hurt by this event.

“In the meantime, Florida continues to face this serious problem, and unfortunately, there simply is no silver bullet. Its effects will linger for quite some time. That is not a promising thing for me to say for people who are suffering through this right now.

“If that was my house facing this algae, if that was my business wiped out with cancellations, I would be angry too. I would be angry too.

“It’s important to remember that this is not just an ecological crisis, it’s a tragedy for the people on the Treasure Coast who have had to watch this algae threaten their communities and their livelihoods.

“This is a heated issue, as you can imagine, because we’re talking about people’s homes, we’re talking about a way of life. How many people came up to me and said they grew up in the area, they remember the days where their whole summers were spent near that water. And now they can’t even go in it.

“When you see a place as naturally beautiful as the Treasure Coast looking and smelling like an open sewer you have a visceral and angry reaction to it. I know that I did. And sadly whenever there are emotional and heated issues like these, people on both sides are willing to exploit them.

“Anyone who tells you that they have the silver bullet answer to this problem is simply not telling the truth, they’re lying. I’ve talked to the experts, dozens of them. I’ve visited with people across the spectrum on this issue, and the reality is that solving this issue will take time and persistence and a number of things. There is no single thing we can do. There are a number of things and they all have to happen in order for this to get better.

“These problems have existed for decades, this didn’t happen overnight. I’ve been a senator for a little less than six years and in my time here we have made steady progress on this issue, but it’s not coming as fast as I would like and it’s not coming as fast as the people of the Treasure Coast need. But the worst thing we could do right now is to divert critical resources from a plan that will work. From a plan designed by scientists, from a plan that is designed by experts, that will work. But we have to put that plan in place.

“That’s why once again I urge my colleagues to move forward on the Central Everglades Planning Project so we can begin the process of authorizing these important projects that will allow us not just to retain more water, but to see cleaner water going into Lake Okeechobee, cleaner water coming out of Lake Okeechobee, and cleaner water flowing south into the Everglades, the way it should be flowing – not east and west into these impacted communities.

“Mr. President, I’m calling your attention to this because as I’ve detailed, this is far from being merely a state issue. We do have our work cut out for us on the federal level to help get this solved. But I am committed to this task, and I ask my colleagues for their assistance in ensuring that five years from now, ten years from now, we’re not still here talking about this happening all over again.”