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Algae Causes U.S. Army Corps Of Engineers To Suspend Lake Okeechobee Water Discharges

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STUART (CBSMiami) – The floodgates are closed at Port Mayaca at Lake Okeechobee.

The Army Corp of Engineers agreed to stop it for at least the next few days.

The reason why is because the water flowing out of the lake is filled with algae.

That algae is blooming downstream.

Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for parts of Florida on Monday because of the algae bloom.

Mark Perry from the Florida Oceanographic Society explains, it can be very dangerous, not only to sea life but humans as well, that's why signs are up around Stuart warning to stay out of the water.

"It's a toxin that gives off if it builds up a point where it affects your liver," Perry said.

The governor's emergency order calls for sending more water south to the Everglades.

There, the algae is filtered out naturally.

Heavy rain in May is leaving the lake very full, which is a problem during hurricane season.

Water must be released to take pressure off the aging dike system.

Two years ago, Stuart had a huge algae bloom outbreak, leaving a thick, stinking, guacamole-like sludge floating on the water.

"To me, it smells like rotting corpses, that's the best way to describe it," resident John Ferguson said back in July of 2016.

This year, it's not that severe yet but it has many concerned it could get worse.

"One day it will be fine, then something will trigger the algae and it will get completely green," said resident Leslie Stempel. "We're so early in the summer, it's just going to get worse and worse."

The problem begins with heavy rains emptying into Lake Okeechobee, filled with fertilizers and nutrients from farmland.

To not overtax the old dike around the lake, water is sent west down the Caloosahatchee toward the Gulf, and east into the St. Lucie River to Stuart and the Atlantic Ocean.

When the sun hits it, the algae blooms.

Normally the brackish salt water kills it but with so much released at once, the salt water is diluted.

"Freshwater algae cannot be sustained the salt water coming in," Perry said. "So if we stop the discharges for a little while an allow those tides to come in that brings that salt water in kills back the algae."

The bottom line, the longer that water is stopped from flowing out of Lake Okeechobee the better for killing that algae.

It will allow salt water and nature time to take its course.

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