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Congressman Mast Is Ignoring Important Facts about Lake Discharges

June 19, 2018 - 6:00am

I read "POINT OF VIEW: Army Corps should swim in our increasingly toxic water," a guest column in Sunday's Palm Beach Post by Congressman Brian Mast. I would love the opportunity to respond.

In recent weeks, Congressman Mast has made political statements regarding the discharges from Lake Okeechobee, urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to stop them. What’s revealing about these statements is that his concerns about the water quality in Stuart weren’t expressed prior to the discharges, when the local health department’s warnings were closing beaches due to high amounts of enteric (fecal) bacteria in the water.

It is unfortunate that Mast would let his political mission to get re-elected interfere with the mission we all share to clean up our water locally. More than a decade ago, our Glades communities took the difficult and expensive step to convert septic tanks to sewer, because as the research shows, septic tanks are one of the leading contributors to pollution.

Instead of blaming Lake Okeechobee, the Congressman should be addressing on the actual cause of the problem and looking for solutions: local basin runoff in the St. Lucie watershed. According to the University of Florida’s 2015 Water Institute report, “On average, 70-80 percent of the freshwater discharge and 65-80 percent of the nutrient load to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries originates in the local basins, with the remaining balance contributed from Lake Okeechobee.” This is a significant part of the problem Mast cannot ignore.

As for sending more water south, there is simply no place to send it because the Water Conservation Areas are completely full with water and the Tamiami Trail continues to largely block the flow of water south to Everglades National Park. Additionally, we need to get a handle on the more than 95 percent of the water that comes into Lake Okeechobee from the north.

I urge Congressman Mast to ignore the political consultants and follow the scientists, who tell us the water quantity problem happens north of the lake, and the water quality problems are happening in his own community.

Tammy Jackson-Moore is co-founder of Guardians of the Glades.

Comments

Ms. Jackson-Moore says, "As for sending more water south, there is simply no place to send it because the Water Conservation Areas are completely full with water and the Tamiami Trail continues to largely block the flow of water south to Everglades National Park" The WCA's are full because while everyone else in Florida has to deal with high water the big farms in the EAA pump their water into taxpayer funded canals to fill the WCA's. The permits under which they do that have provisions that say that in the event of an emergency the pumping can be suspended. They can stack water in their water table without it even coming to the surface. A UF study said that even flooding the fields wouldn't affect production to a large extent. Today the governor could say "turn off the pumps" and make room for Lake O water in the WCAs. It would cost nothing more than the federal price supports pay for anyway. When the health of millions of Floridians is no longer in jeopardy the pumps could go back on and it would be business as usual.

Is there a way to stop the flow south INTO Lake O and make the communities North clean up their waste before it flows into the lake?

Slowing the flow of nutrients and water entering Lake O from the north is key to reducing discharges. SFWMD has plans and models showing that this could be achieved by constructing a mixture of ASR (aqua storage and recovery) wells and DWI (deep well injection) wells north of lake O. There are over 200 dwi wells in Florida today (mostly south of Orlando).

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