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Putrid algae overtakes Florida's south coast just days before July Fourth

A pungent blue-green algal bloom overspreading Florida's south coast prompted the declaration of a state emergency for two counties just days before July Fourth weekend.

On Wednesday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott issued an executive order which put Martin and St. Lucie counties into a state of emergency, in order to allow state and local agencies to take swift action against the algae's spread.

The order allowed the South Florida Water Management District to reduce the flow of freshwater from Lake Okeechobee, which many are blaming as the cause for the widespread bloom.

"Florida's waterways, wildlife and families have been severely impacted by the inaction and negligence of the federal government not making the needed repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike and Florida can no longer afford to wait," Scott said in a statement.

Fresh water is often released east and west of the lake into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers in order to reduce the risk of a breach in the dike, according to the Associated Press.

"Because the Obama Administration has failed to act on this issue, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues to discharge millions of gallons of water into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries resulting in the growth of blue-green algae which is now entering residential waterways in South Florida," he said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is planning to reduce the flow of water from Lake Okeechobee beginning on Friday, though locals say the action is too little, too late.

"The stuff is 4 to 6 inches thick," Matt Athan, a resident of Sebastian told WPBF 25. "It's almost like a sheet of ice and smells like the landfill times 10."

The bloom, which is occurring just days before a major tourism weekend for Florida's Treasure Coast, has caused double red flag warnings at area beaches.

The Martin County Sheriff's Office advises that swimmers stay clear of any water which contains blue-green algae.

According to the Florida Department of Health, the algae's toxins can affect the liver, nervous system and skin. If swallowed, it can result in abdominal cramps, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting.

Those who are sensitive to the algae may develop a rash or respiratory irritation.


Have questions, comments, or a story to share? Email Jillian MacMath at jillian.macmath@accuweather.com or follow her on Twitter @Jillian_MacMath. Follow AccuWeather @breakingweather, or on Facebook.