Anybody who has lived through a lost summer thanks to discharges from Lake Okeechobee can viscerally remember the look of guacamole thick algal blooms in our waterways and stench of rotten eggs mixed with skunk that accompanied the algae. We remember being forced indoors to avoid the stench, the loss of jobs as businesses that rely on our waterways were shuttered and our children having no place to swim or fish.
Lurking beneath the surface, however, is an even more dangerous impact. At my urging, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined that the water discharged into our community by the Army Corps was many times too toxic for human contact. According to their scientists, exposure to the toxins in our waterways can cause serious illness, liver or kidney failure, and even death. The Army Corps was later forced to admit in Congressional testimony that they knew this and discharged the water into our community anyway. In other words, repeated yearly discharges of toxic water from Lake Okeechobee into our community is an unmitigated health disaster for the State of Florida.
Now, the Army Corps has a once-in-a-decade opportunity to solve this public health crisis. They must seize the opportunity to demand of themselves that they no longer poison our community.
In 2018, I wrote and passed a new law mandating that the Army Corps rewrite their regulation schedule that determines if and when discharges from Lake Okeechobee occur. This process is now underway, and this summer, the Army Corps will choose the new plan that will determine when discharges happen for the next decade.
As part of this process, they’ve released modeling data showing what kinds of results are possible not just for our community but for communities all across the Greater Everglades area. This data definitively proves that it is possible for them to eliminate regulatory discharges in the lake’s operational band to the St. Lucie while also increasing water supply, improving recreation and navigation on Lake Okeechobee, and benefiting the environment across Florida.
In other words, the federal government’s current operations willfully poison Floridians despite their data scientists having proven it’s not necessary. How can the Army Corps justify poisoning us now?
The answer is they can’t. It would be unconscionable if the Army Corps selects a new management plan that does not eliminate these discharges. So, with this once in a decade opportunity in front of us, the Army Corps must not settle for incremental progress but rather should take the bold action needed to protect Floridians and stop government-sanctioned poisoning.
Our community has been used as Florida’s septic tank for far too long, and now the Army Corps is soliciting feedback from the public. I have told them to select what they call a “4C-1” plan, which is the option that eliminates regulatory discharges to the St. Lucie. You can likewise share your thoughts with them by emailing LakeOComments@usace.army.mil.
In the meantime, I will keep fighting to get water managers in Florida to choose science and public health above political expediency and corporate greed!