With nutrient-rich water continuing to flow down into Lake Okeechobee, the prospects of eradicating Red Tide and toxic green algae from Florida’s waterways seems like a hopeless proposition, or pipe dream.
Who is responsible for Florida’s water mess?
Regardless of which side of this issue you fall on, the truth is that everyone living from Orlando south to the Florida Keys plays a role.
Rep. Brian Mast (R) is attempting to make addressing these water challenges one of his defining issues as a congressman. During the 2016 presidential election, Mast understood that septic tanks, residents around the lake and estuaries, as well as nutrient runoff from many sources were responsible for the water pollution plaguing Florida’s waterways.
Now Mast, who has all but championed the water issue in his congressional district, believes that lowering Lake Okeechobee’s water level will help reduce toxic algae
Mast is now proposing the lake to be lowered down to 10 ½ ft, a level that the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) believes will negatively impact south Florida.
The SFWMD believes that the effects of lowering Lake O’s level to 10 ½ to 9 ½ ft. would “public health and safety “and increases the “risk of permanently compromising freshwater supplies in wellfields to saltwater intrusion in urban coastal areas.”
According to Brad Stewart, Rep. Brian Mast’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Mast’s proposal “is a permissible level in already authorized by law,” adding that lowering the lake water levels “strikes an appropriate balance between the needs of water users and the needs of the communities east and west of the lake.”
But Mast’s push to lower lake water levels as being the solution to the problem, both of Florida’s U.S. Senators believe that to properly address the toxic water issue, the Herbert Hoover dike must be fixed once and for all.
On July 11, 2018, Senator Rubio took to the senate floor to address the water issue and highlight the $514 million the Trump Administration allocated to complete the dike restoration effort.
“We also must continue to move with expediency to finish the rehabilitation of the dike. And we fought hard to include appropriations in the most recent disaster supplemental that would provide enough funding to once and for all ensure that this is made a priority for completion.
So I appreciate the administration’s heeding this request. Just last week the Army Corps allocated more than $514 million for the dike. Now that means that with all the money needed to complete the project – is now allocated. All of that money is now available and the dike can be finished by 2022. And what we hope that means is that now that the dike is repaired and stronger, they will be able to hold back more water for longer periods of time.”-Sen. Marco Rubio
Sen. Rick Scott (R), who governed Florida since 2011, took the gloves off as the toxic algae spread uncontrollably. Scott directly made the money ask to the president, and allocated state dollars to “fix the federal project.”
Scott told The Floridan that he continues “to firmly believe that we need to fix the Dike “to improve Lake Okeechobee’s health.
“As Governor, I put up state money to fix the federal project – and I’ll work with the President and Congress to make sure funds are allocated. I have been working with the President for two years on fixing the Dike,” said Scott.
In contrast to Mast’s proposal to lower the lake, a 2015 University of Florida study commissioned by the Florida Legislature to develop solutions to stop Lake Okeechobee discharges called for raising the lake’s level once repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike are completed. The study found, “…a substantially revised regulation schedule that provides more storage in the lake might provide…benefits.”
Because Florida’s rainy season is May through October, there is little chance that the necessary fixes will be made in the coming months, and the Army Corps will have no other choice but to release more toxic water into rivers and estuaries around the lake.