A bill aiming to protect Florida's waterways from harmful algal blooms passed nearly unanimously through Congress this week and will now head to the president's desk.
The South Florida Clean Coastal Waters Act will for the first time require a federal task force to research algae blooms in Florida and make a plan to prevent them.
According to U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., the Act amends the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act, which was reauthorized in 2018 by legislation written by Mast and former Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.
The bill directs a harmful algal bloom task force to research causes, consequences and potential solutions to algal blooms in the Greater Everglades region, including how ongoing South Florida ecosystem restoration efforts are impacting the distribution of algal blooms, according to Mast.
The task force will then be required to submit a plan to Congress for reducing, mitigating and controlling Florida algal blooms.
The task force for years focused on developing reports on algal blooms in areas like the Gulf of Mexico, the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. Never before has there been a Florida-specific report.
"It's an important task force. It's great to have them brought into South Florida, and it's a big deal for our area," Mast told WPTV.
The task force consists of groups like NOAA, the CDC and the Army Corps of Engineers.
"We had to work with people in other states to convince them that a lot of their problems have been fixed," Mast said. "We need a re-emphasis of this program in another place where it's in more of a dire need of it."
With a couple of mostly algae-free summers behind us, Mast hopes this is one more way to keep that streak going, protecting tourism, recreation, local economies and public health.
"They don't want to have to worry about their kids being poisoned. That's what this is all about, minimizing that, bringing it to an end, making it so that it doesn't happen," Mast said.
The bill passed through the U.S. Senate unanimously.