As officials with the South Florida Water Management District continue to monitor a growing algae bloom in Lake Okeechobee, Palm Beach County Congressman Brian Mast has sent a letter to the Assistant Secretary of the Army, urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to avoid discharges.
Mast references last summer's toxic algae crisis, which caused environmental issues and financial problems for businesses that make their living on the water. Releases from Lake O are blamed for the toxic algae in the St. Lucie River and other waterways.
The level of the lake is 12.71 feet and the Corps prefers to keep 12.5 and 15.5 feet, but in the event of a tropical system causing levels to rise beyond that point, the Congressman is asking that every other option is taken before considering discharging water.
The letter also urges the feds to work with local water managers on a long-term solution, including implementation of a Florida Senate bill that authorizes construction of a reservoir south of the lake.
We'll hear from Congressman Brian Mast live on Wednesday's Morning Rush at 7:45 a.m.
July 24, 2017
The Honorable Jo-Ellen Darcy
Assistant Secretary of the Army
108 Army Pentagon
Washington, DC 20310
Dear Secretary Darcy:
The Treasure Coast of Florida is facing an environmental disaster. Last summer, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to discharge polluted, nutrient-rich freshwater from Lake Okeechobee had dire consequences on the Treasure Coast. As a result of these discharges, our community faced a public health crisis and incalculable economic damage.
My office has been monitoring the situation for warning signs of a repeat disaster throughout this summer, and late last week, I became aware of a massive algae bloom growing in Lake Okeechobee. If the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were to transfer this algal bloom into the St. Lucie River through a discharge, it would again cause an unacceptable crisis on the Treasure Coast.
In a column published in the Tampa Bay Times on July 20, 2017, Colonel Jason Kirk noted that heavy rain has caused water levels in the conservation area to hit record highs, preventing water from being sent south out of Lake Okeechobee for several months. Based on information provided by the U.S. Army Corps, however, it is my understanding that the water levels in Lake Okeechobee are currently several feet below the level necessitating discharges, and I also understand that on June 27, 2017, the U.S Army Corps of Engineers took additional measures to mitigate the high water levels throughout the conservation areas.
Should these water levels rise, I am writing to urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to exhaust every possible flood-prevention option prior to considering discharging water. The transfer of algae-filled water from Lake Okeechobee onto the Treasure Coast is simply unacceptable, which is why I have introduced legislation in Congress to hold the federal government responsible for the cost of damages associated with the transfer of algal blooms from Lake Okeechobee into our community.
Understanding that this is a complex problem that will not be solved over night, I also urge you to work with South Florida Water Management District on a long-term solution that includes implementing Florida State Senate Bill 10, which authorizes construction of a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. I will do everything in my power to authorize federal support for this project as well.
Thank you in advance for your immediate attention to this potentially life-threatening situation.
Brian J. Mast
Member of Congress
President Donald J. Trump
Acting Secretary of the Army Robert M. Speer
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers District Commander Colonel Jason A. Kirk
Governor Rick Scott
South Florida Water Management District Executive Director Peter Antonacci
Photo: Getty Images