PORT MAYACA, Fla. — Community leaders from across Florida, including U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, came together Tuesday to call on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to select a balanced water release schedule from Lake Okeechobee.
SPECIAL COVERAGE: Protecting Paradise
Environmental leaders, including Friends of the Everglades, Captains for Clean Water and Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center, joined Mast for the announcement at the Port Mayaca Lock And Dam.
Leaders said they want a plan that sends more water south and eliminates harmful, toxic discharges to the St. Lucie, Caloosahatchee, and Lake Worth Lagoon.
They are urging the Army Corps to pick a schedule "that benefits all Floridians, the environment, public health, and the economy."
The group said they are calling for the Army Corps to select a water release schedule known as "Alternative CC."
"The lake has never been operated in a balanced way. As long as we've been managing water, this has really been a lake that's been managed really for an agricultural water supply that we all suffer from," said Steve Davis, the chief science officer with the Everglades Foundation.
The Army Corps' current discharge schedules are based on data more than a decade old, and the group is working on a new schedule that is set to be announced in July.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has also called for a balanced schedule in an effort to avoid both flooding and toxic algae.
Representatives from east coast, west coast of Florida and Everglades joining @RepBrianMast at news conference to announce their support of Alternative CC- one of five possible options for the next Lake Okeechobee water release schedule, called LOSOM @WPTV pic.twitter.com/f6bM9OGcao— Meghan McRoberts (@MeghanWPTV) June 1, 2021
"We have an opportunity with Plan CC ... ensuring discharge reduction, ensuring more flow going south," Davis said. "If those elements are not part of the plan, then it's not a balanced operational plan for the lake or for all of South Florida."
Davis said sending the discharges south will allow the water to be filtered by marshes, helping clean the pollutants from the water before it reaches the Everglades, calling it a "win, win situation."
"There’s absolutely no reason to keep the lake artificially high during the dry months so it can be used for irrigation, knowing it will poison people on the coast," said Eve Samples, executive director at Friends of the Everglades.
West Palm Beach issued a drinking advisory for the children and the elderly after a toxin produced by blue-green algae was detected in the drinking water.
"The backup [West Palm Beach water supply] is the lake. That's where it's getting its water flowing in from. We've been asking that question for years because they do have standards as well," Mast said. "This is where, in all likelihood, you are seeing that toxic algae ... getting into that water supply."
Mast said last week he believes there is an 80% chance Lake Okeechobee discharges into the St. Lucie River will end. Given the toxicity of the discharges, the congressman said a revised Army Corps schedule is imperative for the health of residents.
"It's a literal threat to human life, to the threat of Alzheimer's, liver failure, kidney failure, respiratory issues, you name it, and even death if you drink enough of it," Mast said.
He said it is imperative that there be a plan in place that if there is toxic algae on Lake Okeechobee that water is not released into estuaries.
"We won't be poisoned," Mast said. "You might want to give water to other places, but never ... do you have the right to poison us."
The congressman also threatened to get in a rowboat and anchor himself to the St. Lucie Lock, forcing the Army Corps to sink him and his boat, for them to discharge water to the east coast.