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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

What Tampa Bay can teach Florida in its Lake Okeechobee crisis

The Hillsborough Bay near Gibsonton, shown here in 1970 covered in thick, blue green algae similar to what many residents of southeast Florida are seeing today around Lake Okeechobee.

Photo courtesy of J.O.R. Johannson

The Hillsborough Bay near Gibsonton, shown here in 1970 covered in thick, blue green algae similar to what many residents of southeast Florida are seeing today around Lake Okeechobee.

18

July

The putrid, rotten-egg smell that has plagued Lake Okeechobee's neighbors is the same odor Rick Garrity remembers gagging on when he moved to Tampa in 1977.

"If you stood at the intersection of Bayshore and Bay to Bay in the middle of summer you could not stand the stench," said Garrity, then the city's urban environmental coordinator. "It was horrific."

The cause was the same - blue-green algae blooms.

On Florida's Treasure Coast, where the blooms have spilled out of the lake into waterways, local and state officials are scrambling for a solution to stop the advance of the guacamole-green goop and its sulfuric smell before it affects any more people and wildlife. Photos from space of the algae have sparked a national outcry and Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency.

Around Tampa Bay, the crisis is bringing back memories of the region's own struggles with pollution and the catastrophe it nearly caused during the 1970s.

News reports then from Tampa and St. Petersburg might be mistaken for today's accounts from Martin County. Headlines decried the foul odors from the shoreline and the eradication of sea life.

Tampa Bay was declared dead and many worried it would never recover.

But it did.

Seagrass coverage here, a key measure of water quality and clarity, last year surpassed 40,000 acres - levels not seen since the 1950s and nearly double the low point. Fish and other wildlife populations have rebounded, as anglers testify, and the stench of algae blooms is rare.

Now, some hope Tampa Bay's stunning reversal can serve as a blueprint for reeling Treasure Coast communities. Leaders from the Tampa Bay Estuary Program have met with officials from there who are eager for solutions.

"It hasn't been that long ago that we had a similar fate," said Tom Ash, the assistant director of Water Management Division with the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission. "They're dealing with a different kind of algae down there but the same driving forces were here in Tampa Bay."

Read story here.

[Last modified: Monday, July 18, 2016 1:17pm]

    

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