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Rooney holds second water quality roundtable

May 14, 2019
By CJ HADDAD ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Congressman Francis Rooney held a second roundtable in four days on Friday to discuss harmful algal blooms and their impacts on Southwest Florida waters, humans and sea life.

This time around, the discussion was open to the public at the Southwest Florida Conservancy in Naples, and included many nonprofits, environmental advocates and community partners engaged in the battle with toxic algae such as was seen last summer.

"We're fortunate to have experts to lead the discussion," said Rooney at the roundtable. "We're trying to get as much shared knowledge as we can."

Article Photos

Congressman Francis Rooney sits at a roundtable discussion on harmful algal blooms Friday at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, surrounded by representatives of nonprofit organizations, environmental advocates and community partners.


As each of the 20-person panel went around to share their concerns, the emerging destination for talks came to be, "What can Congressman Rooney do to help?"

"I think it was a good, robust discussion," Rooney said. "A lot of people are still having interchange and exchanging ideas and cards -- and a lot of important issues were put on the table. Pretty (much) ran the gamut -- phosphorus, nitrogen, governmental agencies at the state and federal level. We have a very serious problem here that touches all of us and it requires all aspects of our government, and our citizens, to help solve."

At the front and center of discussions was the potential negative health effects to human and sea life, as there are still many questions to be answered.

Rooney said that these concerns are, "a menace to all of us."

Members of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, were present during the closed-door meeting with Rooney and Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier last week.

Experts said at Friday's roundtable that it was clear that they did not have all of the information they needed last year, and called for the EPA to establish an effort for research to protect public health should future occurrences happen.

"I think that the key issues at the federal level are going to be associated with public health, safety and welfare," said Rae Ann Wessel, Natural Resource policy director at the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation, who was part of the roundtable discussion Friday. "Cyanobacteria standards -- that serious research needs to be done. But in the meantime, we could be monitoring, collecting data in the water, in the air, in the sand, in the seafood, to understand what that impact of toxic algae is in our everyday lives. And from that, EPA can set standards that will cross all boundaries, because this happens everywhere, not just Florida."

Dr. Larry Brand, a University of Miami marine biology professor, and harmful algal bloom expert, spoke about BMAAs, an amino acid produced by cyanobacteria, that has been linked to neurodegenerative diseases, such as ALS.

Howard Simon, of the American Civil Liberties Union Florida, backed Dr. Brand on how BMAAs are a real threat, and that scientists need to work together with policy makers

"Human health is directly tied to the health of our environment," added Captain Daniel Andrews, executive director for Captains For Clean Water

Other topics and apprehensions included the grass bed, or lack there of in Lake Okeechobee, Everglades restoration projects and their funding, loss of wetlands, phosphate mining and sewage concerns.

Rooney was engaged in the conversation throughout the hour-long meeting, and plans to put the information he's obtained into practice.

"I've got a few marching orders that we can work on in our office, which I intend to do," he said following the roundtable. "I think we need to continue the discussion with the EPA about some of these things that our colleagues brought up."

Rooney alluded to the fact that there might be future meeting of a similar nature to continue to connect the dots among federal, state and local officials and leaders.

The congressman said his eyes are now even more open to the severity of the issue after speaking with so many agencies and organizations across the week.

"I think I've fortified my feeling about how desperate our situation is to deal responsibly with phosphorus and nitrogen, and clean up our waterways," he said. "We need to beef up the attention on the nitrogen side of the equation, while we continue to get the EAA Reservoir built and CERP related projects to move that water south."

Participants were encouraged with Rooney's attentiveness and the atmosphere created with many different organizations represented in one setting.

"I thought it was an interesting dynamic with the different groups here," said Wessel. "I think that the congressman gets a chance to really understand that there are real faces associated -- and he knows that very well -- but what he can do is take this back and help other congresspeople recognize that these are things that have to be addressed. I think the congressman's interaction was very helpful -- that he would engage -- that was not anticipated."

"I thought it went well. There were a lot of different things brought up today," said Andrews.

He believes that Rooney sees water quality as the No. 1 issue facing Florida today, and said that he's encouraged that he has made himself available to talk with those who are trying to make a difference.

Andrews said that this is going to take a group effort, namely from organizations such as those that were in attendance that day, to truly combat this issue.

"It's important that we have these groups that are working on a variety of different things. It's good to see everything pushed forward, because you have to have everything to get to where we need to be," Andrews said. "Collaboration and groups working together with other non-profits, with federal, local and state policy makers, that's what it's going to take. If we don't do that, we're never going to get these problems fixed."

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter @haddad_cj



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