There is no question that insufficient and outdated water management priorities have led us to a human health crisis.
Holding Lake Okeechobee water levels too high before the rainy season last year resulted in the emergency discharge of 392 billion gallons of toxic water into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee, leaving behind a rash of health concerns and unanswered questions. (The Army Corps admitted they were betting on a dry weather forecast. We all lost that bet.)
Exposure to the toxic blooms in those discharges led to an increase in emergency room visits. Studies proved that waterborne toxins were also in the air, making the simple act of breathing potentially dangerous. Now scientists are questioning whether BMAA from the blooms and evidence of neurological disease in the brains of stranded dolphins points to a potential death sentence for humans who share the environment.
So, we asked for leadership on human health, and Congressman Brian Mast stepped up to advocate for the health of his constituents. Mast has a plan, and he's recruiting fellow leaders to do the right thing.
That means making an operational change in the management of Lake Okeechobee to end the practice of betting on the weather and hoarding water in the dry season. Instead the Army Corps would use existing capacity in the system to clean water and maintain healthy flows to Florida Bay and the Caloosahatchee.
Would briefly lowering the lake to 10-½ feet ahead of the rainy season potentially inconvenience the sugarcane industry by occasionally cutting into its two-year reserve of backup irrigation supply? Maybe.
But faced with a human health crisis on both coasts, the sugarcane industry worried that it might seem… awful… to object. (They’ve seen enough public relations disasters lately.) So instead they invented a conflict over municipal water for the City of West Palm Beach.
There is no conflict. Mast’s latest #LakeOFactCheck video makes this crystal clear. The numbers tell the story: 52x more water was taken from Lake Okeechobee last year for irrigation than for the City of West Palm Beach. And the last time lake levels dropped below 11 feet, there were no water restrictions and growers got all the water they needed. Just as they are now.
Mast’s video is less than a minute.
And his proposal isn’t just a theory. It’s working today.
The Army Corps’ decision to open the locks early this year was a result of a new line of thinking that might save us from cyanobacteria-ridden releases this summer. Had they reached that line of thinking earlier, knowing that there was unused system capacity to clean and reroute lakewater all winter, they might've found that there was no need for discharges at all.