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U.S. Rep. Brian Mast calls on Army Corps to permanently end Lake Okeechobee discharges

Lawmakers says water releases unnecessary for flood control
Posted at 2:51 PM, Apr 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-05 18:35:49-04

MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. — Blue-green algae was detected near the St. Lucie Lock last week, prompting a health advisory to be issued Friday by the Florida Department of Health.

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South Florida's rainy season is still a few months away, and many are wondering if this could be an ominous precursor for the upcoming summer.

Lawmakers including U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., urged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Monday to eliminate freshwater discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie Estuary.

Algae near the Port Mayaca Lock on April 5, 2021
Algae was spotted near the Port Mayaca Lock on April 5, 2021.

"The Army Corps has determined that discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie are unnecessary for flood control and that eliminating these discharges can actually be beneficial to water supply, the environment and more," Mast said. "The Army Corps must not settle for incremental progress but rather should take the bold action needed to protect Floridians and stop government-sanctioned poisoning."

State Sen. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, and State Rep. Toby Overdorf, R-Palm City, joined Mast in the call to permanently end the discharges from Lake Okeechobee.

The discharges from the lock have negative impacts on the environment, causing the growth of toxic algae and harming oyster beds that need a healthy balance of salt and fresh water.

Freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee into the estuary, designed to lower the lake level before hurricane season, were reduced over the weekend after the Army Corps of Engineers said Friday that boaters could see algae.

Martin County Ecosystem Manager John Maehl
Martin County Ecosystem Manager John Maehl says they are working with the Army Corps to reduce the harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee.

"If we have warm water anytime during the year, it's possible we can have some blooms, so it's something we're concerned about and definitely keeping an eye on," said Martin County Ecosystem Manager John Maehl.

Maehl said they are making regular river patrols and working with the Army Corps to reduce harmful impacts.

The Corps is developing a new operating manual that covers how and when to release water from Lake Okeechobee.

From the ground, it may be difficult to get a true sense of how the discharges are impacting the estuaries. But WPTV spoke with a noted environmentalist who gets a different view of the situation from above.

Jacqui-Thurlow Lippisch and her husband Ed have been flying overhead each week since the most recent round of discharges began a month ago.

Jacqui-Thurlow Lippisch, member of the governing board of the South Florida Water Management District
Jacqui-Thurlow Lippisch says she can't recall the presence of algae in the St. Lucie River this early in the year.

Thurlow-Lippisch, a member of the governing board of the South Florida Water Management District, said Monday the water quality isn't the same.

"There are dark areas, and there are blue areas, but it's not horrible. You can still see transparently through the water, and that's the important thing," Thurlow-Lippisch said.

However, she cannot recall seeing algae this early in the year.

Signs are currently posted at the St. Lucie Lock and Lake Okeechobee warning visitors of the potential presence of algae.