Expedite long term solutions to reduce harmful Lake Okeechobee discharges

September 23, 2020

It was singer/songwriter Neil Young that popularized the phrase, “Rust never sleeps,” a metaphor for the concept that rust is constantly working to break down metal. That same philosophy applies to Everglades restoration and the need to keep chipping away at the components of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), the framework for restoring, protecting and preserving the greater Everglades ecosystem.

Every rainy season, Floridians from coast to coast hold their breath, anticipating dreaded discharges from Lake Okeechobee and the residual destruction left in their wake—harmful algae blooms, fish kills, seagrass die-offs, exacerbated red tide, and the impacts of it all on human health, drinking water supply, water quality, and our economy.

So, how do we eliminate these harmful, large-scale discharges that wreak havoc on the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee River estuaries?

We send the water south. Not east and west. And certainly not underground as advocated for by special interests.

Critical Everglades restoration projects like the EAA Reservoir and stormwater treatment area (STA) are longterm, science-based solutions that, when paired with proper water management, will reduce harmful discharges and restore the flow of freshwater south to the Everglades and Florida Bay.

The Everglades and Florida Bay are starving for the excess water that historically spilled over from Lake Okeechobee. That water is essential for maintaining the natural saltwater/freshwater balance of the bay, yet these days the Glades receive only about 40% of the flow they once did, leading to increased salinities, algae blooms and seagrass die-offs in the bay.

In the last three years, we’ve seen more progress on Everglades restoration than during the prior 20 years, but it’s easy to forget our water issues when we haven’t had a major discharge from Lake Okeechobee in the last 18 months.

This welcome period of beautiful water doesn’t mean we can take our foot off the Everglades restoration pedal. Complacency stagnates projects and halts progress. The way things stand today, we’re constantly a few significant weather events away from another widespread water crisis.

Here we are in mid-September, the height of one of the most active the hurricane seasons on record, and the water level on Lake Okeechobee is hovering around 15.2 feet. As Col. Andrew Kelly, Commander of the Army Corps of Engineers of Florida, said last week, at this rate it’s only a matter of time before water is released to our coastal estuaries.

To ensure continued progress, we need recurring state and federal funding and we need people to stay engaged with these issues. Without public pressure, there is no political will.

Together, we’ll keep fighting for clean water. It’s the right of every Floridian to live free of poisons, bacteria and other pollutants in the water they drink, live around and recreate in. We refuse to accept the destruction of our marine ecosystems and our way of life in the name of profit.

There’s a solution. It’s called Everglades restoration and it restores the flow of water south to be cleansed and distributed where it’s needed, as nature intended. But it’s going to take all of us to make it happen.

As Neil Young would say, “It’s better to burn out, than it is to rust.”