STUART, Fla. - "Speak up for the St. Lucie" reads the sign Ed Ciampi proudly holds.
The Martin County Board of County Commissioners chairman is behind a campaign by the same name. The goal is to clean up the St. Lucie River by harnessing the power of social media.
And by clean up, Ciampi means stop the flow of freshwater from Lake Okeechobee into the brackish St. Lucie River.
The bacterial levels have been high enough for the Health Department to post warning signs, and scientists say the freshwater is killing the river's habitat.
"So much water coming in is just ruining the sea grasses and the oyster beds," said Ciampi.
He and some other governmental leaders from Port St. Lucie, Sewalls Point and Stuart are asking people to join the cause by liking the campaign's Facebook page , posting specific pictures and sending letters to legislators. Ciampi says the ailing river needs a voice before it's too late.
"This is not an issue that belongs to somebody else. This is absolutely their issue," said Ciampi.
Even though Martin County is fully behind the effort, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it's following a 2008 federal agreement, by releasing Lake Okeechobee waters into the St. Lucie Estuary.
Corps spokesman John Campbell says he sympathizes with the environmental damage to the estuary, but protecting the lake from overflowing comes first. The Corps says the releases protect homes and farmland from flooding, and Tropical Storm Isaac made the waters rise significantly.
"The biggest reason we're doing it is in the interest of public safety. After Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and failures in flood protection systems down there, the Corps of Engineers is certainly not prepared to look at another failure of a flood protection system," said Campbell.
Activists in Martin County are asking for the water to flow south, into the Everglades. That's where it naturally flowed, before engineers altered its path.
Campbell says it would take Congressional action to change the Lake Okeechobee releases. That's exactly what Martin County commissioners are aiming for.
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