Rep. Brian Mast says South Florida has a once-in-a-decade chance to stop discharges into the St. Lucie River.
The Stuart Republican sent a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers urging the federal agency to eliminate scheduled water releases from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie estuary. The Army Corps in July will set up a discharge schedule that will dictate water management for the next 10 years.
The discharges have often brought with them blue-green algal blooms from cultures constantly living in Lake Okeechobeee. In past years, that has ravaged business and threatened the health of individuals living in Florida’s 18th Congressional District, Mast said. He stressed the need for change in his letter to Col. Andrew Kelly, Jacksonville District Commander for the Corps.
“Discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the communities I serve in Congress pose substantial public health risks,” Mast wrote. “The water discharged from the lake by the Army Corps routinely tests many times more toxic than the Environmental Protection Agency has determined is safe for human contact. Nonetheless, under the current lake regulation schedule, the federal government has chosen to poison Floridians nearly every year.”
But Mast said modeling presented to the Corps and the South Florida Water Management District shows it may be unnecessary to discharge the water into the St. Lucie.
Notably, the Army Corps last year decided not to discharge into the river. Mast would like to see that become the norm.
“It would be unconscionable if the Army Corps selected a final plan that does not eliminate regulatory discharges to the St. Lucie given that the Army Corps’ own modeling proves it is not only possible but actually beneficial to other Congressionally-authorized project purposes,” Mast wrote.
“We have a once-in-a-decade opportunity to solve a debilitating public health crisis. The Army Corps must not settle for incremental progress but rather should take the bold action needed to protect Floridians and stop government-sanctioned poisoning.”
Mast’s request does raise other questions for those outside his district. For example, discharges to the west into the Caloosahatchee River have caused similar blooms in Southwest Florida, and have been blamed by some for red tide outbreaks.
But Mast’s office said modeling shows eliminating discharges into the St. Lucie won’t mean more into the Caloosahatchee. Discharges can be stopped to the St. Lucie and reduced to the Caloosahatchee while still allowing some water flow for the sake of the river ecology. That can be achieved by both increasing water flow to the south and the amount stored for water supply.