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. We cannot tolerate mismanagement of Lake Okeechobee that results in toxic discharges destroying our community and putting people’s lives at risk.

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.

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. Algae in the St. Lucie River has tested nearly 50 times more toxic than the level considered safe for human contact.

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.

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 also would be required to 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.

Everybody’s health and safety has to be prioritized, and that’s exactly what this bill will do.

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