Sep 04 2018

Mast Introduces New Legislation Prioritizing Public Health, Safety to Stop Harmful Discharges

St. Lucie River Recently Tested Nearly 50 Times More Toxic Than Safe For Human Contact

Stuart, Fla. – U.S. Congressman Brian Mast (FL-18), along with, today announced the introduction of new legislation prioritizing public health and safety to stop harmful discharges that have plagued the east and west coasts of Florida.  The Stop Harmful Discharges Act makes public health and safety, including prevention of toxic cyanobacteria and the integrity of the Herbert Hoover Dike, the primary project purpose for the management of Lake Okeechobee. 

“The Army Corps is keeping an artificially high level of water on Lake Okeechobee, risking dike failure and putting special interests ahead of the health and human safety of the communities east and west of the lake,” Rep. Mast said. “We will not tolerate mismanagement of Lake Okeechobee that results in toxic discharges destroying our community and putting people’s lives at risk.  Everybody’s health and safety has to be prioritized, and that’s exactly what this bill will do.”

Toxic algae can cause nausea, vomiting, liver disease and even death.  Scientists have linked at least one other toxin in the algae to neurological diseases such as ALS and Alzheimer's.  On August 23, 2018, algae in the St. Lucie River tested nearly 50 times more toxic than the level considered safe for human contact, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has continued to insist that they have “an extremely limited ability to address water quality.” 

The current authorized project purposes—including flood control, navigation, water supply, regional groundwater control and salinity control, enhancement of fish and wildlife, and recreation—have resulted in the lake being managed to the substantial detriment of the communities east and west of the lake, whose health and safety is routinely put at risk by toxic discharges.  The Stop Harmful Discharges Act will amend the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ project purposes to prioritize public health and safety on the Treasure Coast and throughout Florida.

“Toxic cyanobacteria is a real health threat to the many people who live near Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie watersheds,” co-founder Chris Maroney said. “We need to continue long-term projects, but the Army Corps must prioritize the health and safety of Floridians now, not in 20 years. Only Congress has the power to make that happen.”

The Stop Harmful Discharges Act defines public health and safety as managing Lake Okeechobee and the Central and Southern Florida system to:

  • Minimize the potential of toxic cyanobacteria blooms;
  • Prevent discharges containing cyanobacteria or related toxins into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee watersheds and other areas where such cyanobacteria or related toxins will cause or exacerbate public health risks;
  • Ensure the integrity and stability of the Herbert Hoover Dike;
  • Maintain all provisions of applicable State and Federal water quality laws, policies and regulations; and
  • Ensure necessary water volume and quality reaches the Everglades National Park, Florida Bay and Caloosahatchee Watershed to restore the natural habitat. 

Under this definition, the health and safety of communities east and west of the lake will be given equal priority to the rest of Florida for the first time. The bill also directs the Secretary of the Army to modify operations of current projects to ensure that public health and safety, as defined above, is the prime consideration.  The Secretary shall develop a Master Operational Manual to ensure that the projects are managed to protect public health and safety. 

The bill does not alter the water rights compact between the State of Florida and the Seminole Tribe, nor diminish access to water for the Miccosukee Tribe.  The bill also will not impede the construction of CERP and CEPP projects.  In fact, the bill explicitly prohibits changes to the schedule for completion of any CERP or CEPP projects, authorized before December 31, 2018, as a result of the legislation.