Governor Rick Scott plans visit to ailing St. Lucie Estuary as SFWMD takes action on Everglades plan

STUART, Fla. -- Governor Rick Scott will tour the St. Lucie Estuary next week, as concerns over toxic algae and high levels of bacteria continue to grow.

Scott will tour the S-80 Control Structure on the St. Lucie River and assess the impact of water being released from Lake Okeechobee with Senator Joe Negron, his office said on Thursday.

The announcement came hours after the governing board of the South Florida Water Management District tentatively approved the Central Everglades Planning Project, a plan that would allow some water from Lake Okeechobee to be released south of South Bay and into the Everglades.

"Florida's quality of life is intrinsically linked to its environment," Dawn Shirreffs, a senior Everglades policy advisor at the Everglades Foundation said. "It is a long-term solution. It's not going to offer relief tomorrow but it is really important that the public sees that decisive actions are being taken." 

The approval charts a course that may some day send 65 billion gallons of water through a series of basins, canals and reservoirs from Lake Okeechobee into Florida Bay.

That, Shirreffs said, would reduce the number of discharges from the lake into the St. Lucie and other estuaries and lessen the impacts on the environment.

"If you release the bottom end it will help the top end. And, you don't have to be a hydrologist to figure that out," Ronald Bergeron, the commissioner of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said. "We're pumping the half we chose to drain on top of the half we chose to save with half the area and the same amount of rain as you had 100 years ago."

On Thursday, during a meeting with researchers and scientists, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida) said the $1.8 billion project would have far-reaching implications on the health of the Everglades, the welfare of wildlife and the livelihood of thousands of people.

"What I saw was a river that had no life," Nelson said after an aerial tour of the St. Lucie River. "There were no mullet jumping. There were no seagulls. No pelicans diving. There was no osprey. All of it was not a functioning river. So, you have a polluted river."

The concerns, Nelson said, stretched from Hobe Sound, north of West Palm Beach, to Merritt Island, near the Kennedy Space Center, where the unexplained deaths of dolphins, manatees and pelicans had been reported.

Martin County residents said they were frustrated at the pace of state and federal inaction.

"The people here have just had enough," John Kane, a Palm City resident said. "I mean, we have lost our summer … our boat is sitting in a rack building, not able to be used, because we can't go in the water."

Kane worried about the impact on future generations.

"This is very, very important to everyone. Our kids. Our grandkids. And, for generations to come," Kane said. "We're killing it. We're just absolutely killing it. And, it makes no sense not to try to do something that is within our power to do."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must submit a draft proposal to Congress no later than December 31st for the Central Everglades Planning Project to be considered.

If it misses its deadline, action may be delayed until 2021.

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