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Residents relieved over brief reprieve from Lake Okeechobee discharges

Posted at 4:29 AM, Jul 10, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-02 11:12:22-04

Former Sewall's Point Mayor Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch flew over Lake Okeechobee Sunday to record video of the algae covering lake.

“(I saw) geometric figures of algae blown by the wind from one side of the lake to the other. It was very depressing," said Thurlow-Lippisch.

But at least on Monday, the blue-green algae was not moving from the lake through the St. Lucie Lock.

“The federal government, the Army Corps of Engineers is listening to us," said Thurlow-Lippisch.

Low levels of toxins have been detected in some of the algae around the lake, but they are below the levels considered hazardous by the World Health Organization.

Residents protested at the lock Sunday, and a few weeks ago the River Kidz, a group of young environmentalists, met face to face with lawmakers in Washington.

Cristina Maldonado was on that trip and knows there are no quick solutions.  The Army Corps says it will likely resume the discharges later this week.

“We’re cautiously optimistic.  We’ve been here before and nothing has happened, so it’s not time to celebrate," said Maldonado.

The Army Corps of Engineers is conducting a system wide review.

“We analyze this stuff constantly.  What’s changed over the past 24 hours is the level of interest," said John Campbell with the Army Corps' Jacksonville Office.

Beyond local protests, politicians on the state and federal levels have reached out to the Corps.

“They are recognizing for the first time that they are not just a hazard.  They are a health issue," said Thrulow-Lippisch.

“The more we’re all on the same page and have one voice, the more successful we’ll be," said Martin County Ecosystem Manager John Maehl, who adds the governor's emergency order should help.

“We expect it would make available to us state resources.  It may also give us some leeway in how we might mitigate algae.”

Included in the emergency order is more staffing to do water testing, which will work to identify more storage north and south of the lake, along with directing the State Department of Economic Opportunity to work with local businesses impacted by the algae.