Former Pahokee mayor says septic tanks, not sugar farmers, are to blame for algae crisis

More water needs to go south, but how is the issue
Posted at 5:08 PM, Jul 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-19 09:29:05-04

In the wake of the algae crisis there has been no shortage of finger pointing.

Some argue that land owned by Florida sugar farmers, including U.S. Sugar, should not be used for farming but for water storage and treatment.

WPTV reached out to U.S. Sugar and met up with former Pahokee Mayor J.P. Sasser, who would speak on their behalf. 

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When asked about his relationship with U.S. Sugar, Sasser said he is not getting paid but he is speaking up for the sugar giant because they are part of the community that he is part of and he feels the community is under attack.

We asked him if discharges from Lake Okeechobee were to blame for the algal blooms.

Sasser said, “Algae occurs naturally. Nothing really causes it but it takes advantage of excessive nutrients in the water. We have a nutrient load problem in the lake. We admit that, it’s coming from the north down the Kissimmee River and over from the Taylor Creek area. None of the water in the lake is coming from the south-end of the lake.

"It goes back to why does it fall on the shoulders of sugar to clean up industrial waste, human waste, more and more every day, the septic tank issue is at the front of the line. Why aren’t they just as adamant that we eliminate septic tanks that are polluting our waters than they are about pointing the finger to agriculture that has a documented record of cleaning up their water.”

In 2010 U.S. Sugar agreed to sell 46,000 acres of land south of the lake to the state as part of Everglades restoration. 

In 2015 the South Florida Water Management District ended the deal, citing excessive cost.

After the deal fell apart U.S. Sugar was blamed by some for not being on board with Everglades restoration. 
Not true says Sasser.

“First of all, I am totally for restoration of the Everglades. I don’t think you can find anyone who is against that. We are for sending more water south for the health of the Everglades. And Florida Bay and all of the environment down there.”

Though there is agreement about the big picture, solutions aren’t as simple as they might seem, according to Sasser

“You’ve got federal roadblocks, you’ve got environmental roadblocks, you’ve got physical roadblocks, there’s a lot of things that need to be overcome. We all agree more water needs to go south.  You won’t find anybody who argues that point. It is the best way to get it south is where we’re differing.”