In recent weeks, Congressman Brian 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.