Lake Okeechobee reservoir
Photo from USGS/NASA

Political broadsides continue over who is to blame for ongoing water-quality problems across South Florida, as Gov. Rick Scott on Friday ordered more action to address red tide in coastal communities. Scott directed the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to “mobilize all available resources” to address impacts in Southwest Florida. As part of the directive, the conservation commission will assist local efforts to save animals affected by red tide.

Scott’s action came after U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat who is being challenged by Scott in the November election, said Thursday that he has asked the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to determine the potential health impacts of exposure to algae that has spread in waterways along both coasts. “This is a problem that’s been years in the making – and it’s a problem that’s going to take years to fix,” Nelson wrote in an open letter. “And anyone who tells you that fixing the dike around Lake Okeechobee will somehow solve this problem is fooling you.”

Scott pushed for the Legislature to spend up to $100 million to help sway the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to speed repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee. Funding to move up the repairs awaits congressional action. Polluted discharges from Lake Okeechobee are blamed for the toxic algae problems.

Scott’s campaign has sent out a news release calling on Congress, and Nelson in particular, to “stop dragging their feet and take action” to approve the dike funding.

The Scott campaign has also released a new TV commercial saying, “Bill Nelson made a pledge ‘to save Lake Okeechobee’ in 1990, but for 30 years, he failed to meet this commitment and secure funding to repair the federally operated Herbert Hoover Dike.”

In response to the ad, Nelson placed the Lake Okeechobee blame on Scott’s policies during his two terms as governor. Nelson relies on news articles and newspaper editorials to boost his claims. “Experts and scientists agree, Rick Scott’s almost eight-year assault on the environment has exacerbated the toxic algae outbreak plaguing much of Florida,” Sebastian Kitchen, Nelson’s campaign spokesman. “And now once again — he’s lying about Bill Nelson’s record to hide from his own record of hurting Florida’s environment. Rick Scott has done a poor job as governor because he’s slashed budgets for environmental and water management agencies, cut enforcement of environmental regulations, allowed more toxins in the waterways and stopped efforts to monitor leaking septic tanks, which altogether have helped create the algae crisis we’re facing today.”

Despite the Nelson campaign’s assertion, algae discharges from Lake Okeechobee predates Scott’s tenure as governor. A 1992 report – when a Democrat controlled the Governor’s mansion – cited the sugar industry as a major contributor of  the phosphorus in the lake.

Meanwhile, Floridians wait for the federal government to live up to its end of the financial commitment to resolve this politicized environmental crisis.

News Service of Florida contributed to this report.