STUART, Fla. – One day after Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency over algae blooms along a stretch of Florida's Treasure Coast, a Florida senator traveled to Stuart to tour the waters.
Blue-green algae blooms have been spreading along the St. Lucie River and other waterways in Martin and St. Lucie counties, prompting Scott to declare a state of emergency Wednesday ahead of the Fourth of July weekend.
On Friday, Scott also declared a state of emergency for Lee and Palm Beach counties.
Scott has directed state and local authorities to fast-track water storage projects that would help reduce the algae's spread.
Officials in Martin and St. Lucie counties blame deteriorating water conditions on freshwater being released from Lake Okeechobee.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, toured the waterways by boat Thursday.
"When a plant grows, it sucks the oxygen out of the water," Nelson said.
Nelson said decades of Everglades restoration has taken its toll on Florida's waterways.
"That's been going on for two decades, and it'll go on for another two decades," he said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Thursday it will reduce the flow of water from Lake Okeechobee beginning this weekend.
"Gov. Scott's emergency declaration gives the South Florida Water Management District the ability to reduce some of the flows coming into the lake," Col. Jason Kirk, district commander for the U.S. Army Corps, said. "The decrease in flows coming into the lake allows us to lower flows going out of the lake. This should bring some degree of relief to the estuaries and allow salinities to recover."
Scott has criticized President Barack Obama and the U.S. Army Corps for pumping water east and west of the lake. That relieves pressure on the aging Herbert Hoover Dike, but local officials claim it's ruining coastal estuaries.
"Reducing the amount of water flowing from Lake Okeechobee will provide much-needed relief for the folks living along the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers," Nelson said in a statement. "But reducing the discharges is only a temporary fix, and it's important that we continue to work toward a long-term solution, such as acquiring more land south of the lake to store and clean more water before sending it south into the river of grass, to prevent this from happening again."