DEP to test ‘green tide’ algae in West Palm Beach park

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection will test algae blanketing a park on the Intracoastal Waterway in West Palm Beach after residents expressed concerns over the recent appearance of the squishy green goo.

Summa Beach Park is a short stretch of sand just north of the C-51 drainage canal, which has been dumping runoff from inland Palm Beach County into the Intracoastal for more than a week. On Wednesday, an estimated 6,050 gallons per second of water was gushing through canal gates.

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Randy Smith, a spokesman for the South Florida Water Management District, said the DEP asked the district to scoop up samples of the Summa Beach algae for testing in Tallahassee.

“The easy assumption is to say it’s coming out of the C-51, but this is a little north,” Smith said about the park. “Bottom line is there is algae all over the place in South Florida right now.”

Smith said the results of the algae test should be back Friday or Monday.

Brian LaPointe, an expert in algae blooms and a research professor at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, examined a photo of the algae for The Palm Beach Post.

He said it’s hard to tell what type of algae it is, but that it’s likely a product of the nutrient-rich water from the canal being pumped into the brackish environment of the Intracoastal.

“If this is something new that hasn’t happened before, then it could be an indicator that nutrients are increasing likely from human activities,” LaPointe said. “You have a variety of different species that are opportunistic.”

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The water flowing out of the C-51, which parallels Southern Boulevard, is runoff from multiple areas, including Wellington, Royal Palm Beach and the Lake Worth Drainage District. Smith said he doesn’t believe there is much Lake Okeechobee water going out the canal currently.

Lake Okeechobee has a large blue-green algae bloom that was measured at 33 square miles last month. Because lake water is draining into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has been conducting tests of blue-green algae toxicity levels in those areas. On Wednesday, DEP officials said two recent samples of Lake Okeechobee water had elevated toxin levels.

Health department spokesman Tim O’Connor said the department’s general recommendation is not to swim in the Intracoastal waterway near drainage canals.

But even if the algae isn’t harmful to humans, LaPointe said it can still do damage.

“The thing about algae is it can grow very quickly when nutrients are available,” LaPointe said. “They can form thick mats that cover the bottom and create dead zones.”

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