PALM BEACH (CBSMiami/NSF) -- Mitigating the impact algae blooms in more than half a dozen counties was discussed Thursday at a meeting of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD).
The blooms started last month in the St. Lucie River continue to spread. They were caused by water contaminated with farm run off which was released east and west of Lake Okeechobee to protect its aging dike system. Gov. Rick Scott says septic tank runoff also contributed to the problem. Martin and St. Lucie counties were ground zero for the blooms which some described as "thick, smelly guacamole."
Water managers are expected to approve $2.5 million dollars to implement the Scott's order to deal with the algae.
Part of the plan is to store additional water north of Lake Okeechobee in the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. They also plan to work with the state, and community partners, to find ways to increase water flowing south from Lake Okeechobee as well as put it in private holding areas. One problem, however, is that many of those spots to the south are already full.
At the meeting, the district got some good news concerning the blooms - they're not as bad as they once were. Aerial photos of Martin County showed there was less algae than what was present last month. In some spots, however, there is not water flow and it's still a slimey mess.
"Very few of the samples are showing up as toxic, that's a very good sign. And the ones that are, there's still a couple of hot spots but the concentration of toxins are lower than they have been," said SFWMD's Randy Smith.
So far, 59 businesses have contacted the state about algae-related economic damages. All those businesses are involved in industries such as fishing, boating, restaurants and retail.
Half of the complaints have come from businesses in Martin County, where the outcry about the algae has been the loudest. Another 11 businesses have reported impacts in St. Lucie County and 12 are from Lee County.
Jordan Schwartz owns the Ohana Surf Shop in Stuart. CBS4 News spoke to him two weeks ago about how bad business was. Now he tells us it's gotten worse.
"It's still dead the bleaches are still empty the town is empty. Business has really come to a standstill," he said.
It's so bad he only has family and one employee on the payroll – everyone else was laid off.
Patrick Armstrong is only working now because his manager gave up hours so he could come in.
"I get hours when I can. Two to three to four hours a week if that, if I get lucky," he said.
On Thursday, Scott activated the state's Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program for businesses affected by the algae blooms. The Department of Economic Opportunity has opened the application period for loans to eligible small businesses from July 14 to August 31, 2016.
"While Florida's residents, waterways and economy have been severely impacted by this environmental emergency, our state has not hesitated to take action to support our coastal communities," said Scott in a statement. "We remain prepared to use every resource available to make sure Florida's families and natural treasures are protected."
On Wednesday, the U. S. Small Business Administration (SBA) opened a Business Recovery Center (BRC) at Martin County Fairgrounds to help businesses impacted by the algae bloom, excessive rain, flooding and the water released from Lake Okeechobee on from January 3rd to 29th.
Small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives and private nonprofit organizations in the following Florida counties are eligible to apply for an economic injury disaster loan: Brevard, Broward, Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Highlands, Indian River, Lee, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Okeechobee, Osceola, Palm Beach, Polk, Saint Lucie and Sarasota.
Jordan and a few other business owners CBS4 spoke to said they have no plans to take a loan. They're afraid if business does not pick up they'll be strapped with a loan payment – and little income.
"If you want to save these businesses, loans aren't' going to work. They need relief from the federal government," Schwartz said.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.
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