Lake O water’s southerly shift helps troubled rivers, officials sayby John Kennedy | September 24th, 2013
Environmental managers have sent 10 billion gallons of water south from Lake Okeechobee since August 1 to ease the flow of nutrient-polluted water into the troubled St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers, a Senate select committee was told Tuesday.
Ernie Barnett, director of the South Florida Water Management District, said the amount of southerly flowing water from the lake that is still brimming near flood stage is certain to increase in coming months.
The move has been helped by almost $2.8 million in improvements to pumping stations and water storage approved earlier this month by state lawmakers, Barnett said.
While the 10 billion gallons has helped, officials said, the select committee heard from a range of local elected leaders and activists urging swifter action to stem the region’s vast water woes.
Nutrient-rich water from Lake Okeechobee has been flowing into the rivers, killing oysters and sea grass and causing a toxic algae outbreak that has forced Martin County health officials to warn residents against coming into contact with the water.
Gov. Rick Scott, who in his first year as chief executive, sharply cut the budgets of state water management districts and eliminated the state’s lead growth management agency, is now trying to ease the problem.
Scott, seeking re-election next year, said last month that he wants state lawmakers to pick up the
entire $60 million tab for building a wetland needed to reduce releases from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie.
Scott blasted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for failing to do its share of the project.
On Tuesday, Select Committee Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, also said the Army Corps was in the position of “judge, jury and executioner” when it comes to water management issues.
The corps is intent on keeping water levels lower in Lake Okeechobee to avoid the risk of flood, making the surrounding region deal with the outflow of dirty water, he said.
Instead, Negron said it’s time for Congress to revisit the role of the “monolithic federal bureaucracy,” represented by the corps.