Many Floridians are unaware of a "guacamole-thick" toxic algae has been strangling our state's waterways and polluting our beaches. This algae bloom has been happening since late June. The Army Corps of Engineers have spent months siphoning off water that is rich in nutrients from Lake Okeechobee in a preservation effort.
Cyanobacteria blooms usually form in warm water polluted with nutrients found in fertilizers. These include phosphorus and nitrogen. The rainfall and the runoff from the rain facilitate the pollution, and the result is an algae bloom. In the Lake Okeechobee situation, the lake rose a full nine inches in depth. This increase in lake depth occurred just before what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration deemed the "hottest June on record in the contiguous United States." [source]
According to an NPR Report: The greatest concern about the blue-green algae is its toxicity. Humans and animals that come into contact with it and it could be harmful to them. The algae typically thrive in freshwater. Under certain conditions, the bacteria can release a wide variety of toxins that affect the liver and nervous system.
Because of the massive algae bloom, Florida Governor Rick Scott has asked President Obama to declare a federal emergency and make federal emergency funds available. The White House rejected the request, saying Florida has the resources to handle the problem itself. Governor Scott is appealing the decision.
The reason it has grown beyond bodies of freshwater and is reaching beaches is concerning. In January, record rains prompted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to start releasing the polluted water into rivers and estuaries in an attempt to keep Lake Okeechobee from overflowing. The algae bloom became so extensive that it reached area beaches.
Governor Scott's proposed solution is reducing nutrient runoff by getting homeowners off of septic tanks and onto sewer lines. According to the CDC, people should avoid exposure to cyanobacterial HABs. The center recommends that people refrain from swimming, water skiing or boating in areas where the water is discolored or where foam, scum, or mats of algae are visible on the water.
If you do swim in water that might have algae, rinse off with fresh water as soon as possible. The same goes for pets and livestock.
The CDC also says to avoid irrigating lawns or golf courses with pond water that looks scummy or smells bad and recommends that any "musty" smell or taste in your drinking water be reported to your local water utility.