PAHOKEE, Fla. — As toxic algae concerns grow across our area, U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Florida, is urging the head of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to visit communities impacted by harmful water releases from Lake Okeechobee.
An aerial photo from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on May 11 showed sizable algae blooms spreading across the lake.
In addition, algae has surfaced east in the C-51 canal along Southern Boulevard in Palm Beach County.
In a letter to Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon, the commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Rep. Mast said "algal blooms on Lake Okeechobee recently tested more than 100 times too toxic for human contact."
Mast said because of the high water level at Lake Okeechobee, "the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is again threatening to discharge this toxic water" into both the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers.
The congressman is asking Spellmon to personally visit Florida to view the algal blooms firsthand.
"If you are going to poison our community yet again you should first look in the eye the men, women and children whose lives you are putting at risk with your reckless decision making," Mast wrote.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Friday the current lake level is 13.61 feet, which is .63 feet lower than a month ago.
Water releases are being reduced to the Caloosahatchee River, and there are no releases to the St. Lucie Estuary. In addition, the Corps is continuing to maximize sending water to the south, which made up about 51% of all releases from Lake Okeechobee over the last week.
"We could get close to 13 feet. We’re hopeful to get down to 13 feet," said Col. Andrew Kelly. "The priority is algae, but still concerned about the stage of the lake."
The Corps said weather conditions for the next month to six weeks will likely determine what the release schedule will look like during the summer and fall. If our weather stays on the drier side, the Corps anticipates being able to hold off on releases to the east by September or later. But higher than anticipated rainfall could change that.
Regarding the letter from Mast, Col. Kelly said the Corps is in communication with Mast’s office, and the agency does pay routine visits to South Florida.
Future visits by Corps leadership are likely, according to Kelly.