On June 7, U.S. Rep. Brian Mast (R-18th District) called on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to cease discharges from Lake Okeechobee “until the water quality is deemed safe or an imminent threat to life exists.” Rep. Mast also invited the assistant secretary of the Army for civil works (who overseas the Army Corps) to tour the 18th Congressional District of Florida to “see the damage being brought onto us by these discharges.”
Congressman Mast’s letter states, “Nutrient buildup in Lake Okeechobee is known to have caused harmful algal blooms in our waterways following discharges from the lake.” However, studies done by Florida Atlantic University found most of the nutrient load that fed the massive 2016 Treasure Coast Algae Bloom came not from the lake water, but from the local basin runoff. While the freshwater from the lake decreased the salinity in the coastal estuaries, it was lower in phosphorus and nitrogen content than the basin runoff. For example, the runoff into the C-44 canal was more than two times higher in phosphorus than the water released from Lake Okeechobee. The University of Florida Water Institute study also found that most of the excess phosphorus and nitrogen are coming from the local basin — not the lake discharges.
Two small algae blooms have been reported on Lake Okeechobee since the releases started. Both had very low levels of toxins at less than 1 part per billion. The World Health Organization considers levels about 10 parts per billion to be a health concern.
“It is my understanding that the recent round of discharges from Lake Okeechobee, which began on June 1, 2018, were initiated prior to any determination of the quality of water being released. While water quality testing is currently ongoing on the state level, I cannot fathom why the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would see fit to discharge massive amounts of water into our community without knowing, with certainty, whether the water was safe — especially since there is no immediate risk of flooding or dike failure,” Congressman Mast wrote. “Therefore, I request that, as a matter of policy, the Army Corps tests and publicly reports the water quality prior to authorization of discharges. Moreover, I request that the current discharges cease immediately until the water quality is deemed safe or an imminent threat to life exists.”
On June 8, community leaders Janet Taylor of Glades Lives Matter and Tammy Jackson-Moore of Guardians of the Glades jointly released the following statement regarding Congressman Brian Mast’s irresponsible request of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to halt the life-saving discharges from Lake Okeechobee and to expose Glades communities to risk of dike failure:
“Congressman Mast’s request of the Army Corps is extremely dangerous and puts thousands of lives at risk. The safety of the people living south of Lake Okeechobee in the Glades communities is non-negotiable. The political decision to risk our communities is reprehensible. It was only last year that Hurricane Irma struck our area and a mandatory evacuation was ordered due to concerns over the Herbert Hoover Dike’s integrity. Until that project is complete, we cannot take any chances — especially for Congressman Mast’s own political expediency — of letting the dike fail.
“Congressman Mast and his coastal neighbors benefit from flood protection, and yet he is trying to deny us the same protection. In the future, we hope that Congressman Mast will think twice about playing politics with our lives and safety before making such a dangerous request.”
According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, releases to the coastal estuaries are designed to help prevent the lake from rising above the level deemed safe for the earthen Herbert Hoover Dike. Flow into the lake is many times the available flow out of the lake even if all of the water control structures were open. There is no way to quickly release enough water to significantly lower the level of the lake in an emergency. One inch on the big lake is equal to 12 billion gallons of water.