In July 2018, algae was visible at the Port Mayaca Lock on the east side of Lake Okeechobee. Water leaving this lock flows into the St. Lucie River and, eventually, out its estuary and into the Atlantic Ocean. / J.D. Vivian

President Donald Trump on Jan. 7, 2019, signed S. 2200, the National Integrated Drought Information System Reauthorization Act of 2018. Through fiscal year 2023, the act reauthorizes, and amends provisions of, “the Department of Commerce’s National Integrated Drought Information System Program; the National Weather Service; the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research; and the National Hypoxia and Harmful Algal Bloom Program,” the White House website (whitehouse.gov) says.

Algal blooms frequently cause “hypoxia,” a reduced oxygen level in the water that can kill plant life and animals, including manatees. In 2018 in Florida, 814 manatees died, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC) website (myfwc.com).

132 manatee deaths in 2018 due to red tide

The FFWCC’s Marine Mammal Pathobiology Laboratory says that 132 of those manatees died due to red tide and that, in 79 other cases, red tide was “suspect” as the cause of death. That’s a total of 211 manatee deaths in 2018 that are, or could be, related to red tide — 26 percent; 16.2 percent of the deaths were definitely due to red tide. These numbers are preliminary, according to the Pathobiology Laboratory, and might increase once final lab results are available for other carcasses.

What S. 2200 does


The summary of S. 2200 reads: “This bill reauthorizes through FY2023 and modifies the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) Program.

“The bill amends the National Integrated Drought Information System Act of 2006 to require, under NIDIS, that the collection and integration of information on the key indicators of drought and drought impacts includes indicators of precipitation, soil moisture, and evaporative demand.

“NIDIS shall also:

  • provide timely data, information, and products that reflect watershed differences in drought conditions;
  • through interagency agreements, coordinate and integrate future federal research and monitoring in support of a drought early warning information system;
  • utilize existing forecasting and assessment programs and partnerships, including forecast communication coordinators and cooperative institutes, and improvements in seasonal, subseasonal, and low flow water prediction; and
  • continue ongoing research and monitoring activities related to drought, including research activities relating to the prediction of drought.

“NIDIS may:

  • engage with the private sector to improve drought forecast and communication if the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration determines such partnership is appropriate, cost-effective, and beneficial to the public and the decision-makers specified in the Act; and
  • facilitate the development of one or more academic cooperative partnerships to assist with NIDIS functions.

“NIDIS shall develop a strategy for a national coordinated soil moisture monitoring network.

“The bill amends the Food Security Act of 1985 to extend through FY2023 certain activities related to the provision of agricultural and silvicultural weather and climate information.”

Section 9 of the act, Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control, requires that, “Not less than once every 5 years, the Task Force shall complete and submit to Congress a scientific assessment of harmful algal blooms in United States coastal waters and freshwater systems. Each assessment shall examine both marine and freshwater harmful algal blooms, including those in the Great Lakes and upper reaches of estuaries, those in freshwater lakes and rivers, and those that originate in freshwater lakes or rivers and migrate to coastal waters” (italics added).

Freshwater Lake Okeechobee, which has 730 square miles, feeds into two rivers: the Caloosahatchee on the west side and the St. Lucie on the east. The St. Lucie estuary, which empties into the Atlantic Ocean, has been especially hard-hit in recent years by algal blooms.