Florida’s estuaries are at tremendous risk. Since early July, Florida’s water crisis has made its way to many of the major national news outlets. First, the cyanobacteria blooms discharged from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers made made the news due to the health risks for all of us living in South Florida, as well as our visitors, pets, and wildlife. Last week, the red tide bloom that has been lingering off Southwest Florida since October was blown inshore. As the westerly winds pushed red tide into the nutrient rich bays and estuaries, mass devastation occurred. Hundreds of dead sea turtles washed ashore. Manatees and dolphins died due to the brevotoxins released by the red tide. Countless snook, redfish, tarpon, goliath grouper, seatrout and many other economically valuable sportfish were victims of this bloom. Countless species have died; from the very bottom of the food chain to the very top- even a whale shark.
We deserve lasting, science-based solutions that will allow Lake Okeechobee’s nutrient rich water to be cleaned and sent south to the Everglades where it is desperately needed.
We also need to clear up some confusion. This issue went viral on social media for the past several weeks, and a lot of misinformation was spread. Mainly, the connections between red tide and the discharges. Red tide is naturally occurring. The blooms form 10-40 miles offshore. But when the blooms are blown inshore, they are able to use nutrients from the discharges and other pollution. That’s what we’re seeing now. When the red tide made its way to the mouth of the Caloosahatchee and surrounding bays the nutrient rich water “supercharged” the bloom, causing unprecedented devastation.
In order to save South Florida’s estuaries that are on the brink of collapse, it is imperative to prioritize solutions that will have the greatest impact and return on investment. We have a solution on the table right now, sitting in Congress waiting for a vote. The EAA Reservoir and the Central Everglades Project will provide roughly a 50% reduction in Lake Okeechobee discharges. It took 2 years of tireless dedication to get this project to where it’s at now, and it’s imperative that we channel all of our energy to get this project authorized and funded. If this project doesn’t get authorized and funded this year, it’s going to be AT LEAST 2 more years of waiting before the design and construction can begin. Florida can’t afford to wait 2 more years for this project to sit in filing cabinets in Washington DC. We need action NOW!