Secretary of Department of Environmental Protection defends state's response to toxic water crisis

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection has defended the state's response to the toxic water crisis in the Indian River Lagoon during an interview with WPTV NewsChannel 5.

In an interview before an appearance at the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches, Herschel Vinyard said accusations that the State of Florida had not acted swiftly were unfounded.

"You know what? The finger pointing, you know, to me is not a productive use of everyone's time," Vinyard said. "The answer is we have an awful lot of people in southeast Florida. It was, at one time, a much larger Everglades -- four million acres. Now, we only have two million acres of Everglades and we're still getting the same amount of rain. That water has to go somewhere but nobody wants the flooding in their homes."  
After months of higher than average rainfall, the water level at Lake Okeechobee reached highs not seen in years.
To prevent a breach of the Herbert Hoover Dike, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released millions of gallons of water into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers.
The discharges were blamed for the bloom of toxic blue-green algae in the Indian River Lagoon and dangerous levels of bacteria near Sandsprit Park, the Stuart Sandbar and other Martin County waterways.
Earlier this year, some Treasure Coast residents accused Governor Rick Scott of ignoring the problem.
"That's absolutely wrong. Obviously, he has been down here several times," Vinyard said. "I should have an apartment down here I've been down in the Martin and St. Lucie counties so much. This is on the forefront of everyone's mind in Tallahassee and that's why we've devoted so many resources to the area."
Vinyard said Scott had committed $90 million to elevate a section of the Tamiami Trail so that water could flow south into Florida Bay.
Vinyard also said the C-44 Canal project, once it is completed, would treat and store large volumes of water near the St. Lucie River.
The water quality in the St. Lucie River was expected to improve in seven to ten days because the Army Corps had suspended the discharges from Lake Okeechobee earlier this week, Vinyard said.
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