The Army Corps asked and the people of South Florida answered--in force.
Monday brought to a close more than two months of public comment sessions hosted by the Corps. Thousands of voices weighed in, from across the state and beyond, to build the record, provide feedback, and raise concerns as the Corps deliberates the replacement of the current Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule with a new policy, now dubbed the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM).
The big takeaway: people are tired of being poisoned.
For too many years, a single industry has gained all the benefit of a system rigged in their favor to the detriment of all other stakeholders. In an impressive show of force, Floridians harnessed an opportunity to fight back against the status quo, demanding changes that prioritize their health and safety, their livelihoods, and their continued prosperity.
Participants from the northern estuaries to the Keys told personal stories of environmental collapse, economic disaster and health concerns for their families and pets. Overwhelmingly, they asked the Corps to consider the harmful impacts to their communities--to all communities--from the consequences of water management. From releasing massive toxic blooms, to unleashing lethal surges of freshwater, to starving estuaries that desperately need it, the corps has been challenged to create a radically new policy.
Elected officials stepped up to underscore the worries and requests of their constituents. On the west coast, where Caloosahatchee waterways are already plagued by the first signs of toxic algae, Congressman Francis Rooney praised the LOSOM process and thanked the Army Corps for their leadership in exercising operational flexibility to draw the lake down ahead of the wet season this year in an effort to avoid harmful summer discharges.
In the Keys, Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsal-Powell called for maximized flows south, and secured an additional public meeting in the southern end of the system, ensuring that residents of lower Miami and the Keys had a chance to speak up for the health of Florida Bay. In her own statements, she reminded the Corps that “every drop of water from Lake Okeechobee gives our community another moment to thrive. When that water isn’t available, our community suffers.”
On the St. Lucie, Congressman Brian Mast worked with Bullsugar and Florida Sportsman Magazine to highlight the critical need to lower Lake Okeechobee to 10.5 feet before the start of the rainy season to reduce the odds of toxic algae forming on the lake, and reduce the odds of forcing water managers to dump that toxic water on coastal communities. To put it simply, Rep. Mast asks the Corps to stop picking winners and losers and to update the outdated and ineffective policy that drives Lake Okeechobee water management. “You can’t make the health of epicenters of populations the losers because you want to benefit one industry over all the people that live in the state of Florida. That can’t occur.”
Need further proof of the compelling case being presented by Floridians who are ready to take back their waters? Take a look at the latest episode of Florida Sportsman Watermen. In just 10 minutes, it helps explain the scope of the problem and how we can stop toxic discharges to both coastal estuaries *and* send clean water south to recharge the Everglades and Florida Bay right now.
Floridians should be proud of their participation in the LOSOM process. With enough voices coming forward to demand responsible management of our water, we just might succeed in securing a clean water future for all the generations that come after us. Until then, thanks for helping us keep up the good fight.