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Health authorities in Palm Beach County (Florida) issue, on Monday, a health alert for the presence of toxic algae in Lake Okeechobee, the largest freshwater lake in the state, whose controlled discharges of water have caused the proliferation of the harmful bacteria in several estuaries.
A water sample collected June 9 from the lake showed a high level of toxins, the Florida Department of Health (FDH) in Palm Beach County, north of Miami, said in a statement.
Health authorities advised residents and visitors not to drink water, swim or water ski in places “where there is a visible bloom” of this foul-smelling blue-green algae.
Nor should anyone cook or clean dishes with water contaminated by this algae, even if it has been boiled, the statement warned.
The FDH reported, however, that it is safe to eat fish caught in freshwater lakes that experience blooms of this type, although it should be rinsed under running water and cooked thoroughly.
Environmental factors contributing to these turquoise algal blooms include “sunny days, warm water temperatures, still water conditions, and excess nutrients.”
Blooms can occur throughout the year, but are most frequent in summer and fall. Many types of blue-green algae can produce toxins.
The Everglades, the huge wetland in southern Florida, is threatened by both the alarming salinization of its aquifers as a result of rising sea levels and the controlled discharge of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee into rivers and estuaries to prevent overflowing, which has led to toxic algal blooms in several estuaries.
Last April, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced a major agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the construction this year of a reservoir in an area of the Everglades wetland, vital to remove thousands of gallons per year of pollutants from Lake Okeechobee discharges.
The use of a large tract of land near Lake Okeechobee to store water and not channel it into estuaries would serve to remove thousands of gallons annually of phosphorus and nutrient pollutants discharging from the lake to other parts of the state.
“Signing this agreement means we are one step closer to moving more clean water south through the Everglades and reducing harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries,” DeSantis said recently.
The goal is to ensure that clean water is channeled southward to the center of the wetland and from there to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay as part of an overall plan that includes removing features on the 276-mile (443-kilometer) Tamiami Trail that impede the flow of freshwater southward.