“At what point, if any, is water flowing from Lake Okeechobee… too polluted, dirty, or toxic to send into the St. Lucie River?”

When, if at all, will the line be drawn?

Now we’re talking…asking. It shouldn’t have taken decades to get to the bottom of the decision making process that dictates opening the flood gates, letting billions of gallons of toxic water into the neighborhoods of the Treasure Coast. “I think what Congressman Mast is going to find is that there isn’t a threshold of pollution that would stop the discharges to the coast,” said Florida Sportsman Publisher Blair Wickstrom.

We’ve been waiting for answers to these questions for years. And with Congressman Mast’s 11 very specific questions to Col. Jason Kirk, District Commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, we may finally start to see what drives some of these decisions. Mast’s first question couldn’t be more poignant: “At what point, if any, is water flowing from Lake Okeechobee…too polluted, dirty, or toxic to send into the St. Lucie River?”

Follow the #toxic18 hashtag Instagram and join the group on Facebook for breaking news updates, photos, videos and events on toxic discharges in your area. Photo: Jennie Pawlowsky, Stuart, June 16th.

And maybe most impactful of the questions is the question of priorities—the question as to why sugarcane is prioritized over human health and safety. Mast asks, “Our residents deserve answers as to why the health and safety of the citizens of the Treasure Coast is viewed as a lower priority than other factors that the USACE considers when making decisions regarding discharges.”

Attached is Mast’s letter with all 11 questions.

Click here to report freshwater algal blooms.

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Dear Colonel Kirk:

As you know, the water laden with algae that you are releasing into our community has now tested positive for toxins. The water management decisions made by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) have life or death consequences for our community.

Our residents deserve answers as to why the health and safety of the citizens of the Treasure Coast is viewed as a lower priority than other factors that the USACE considers when making decisions regarding discharges.

Therefore, I am writing to formally request written answers to the following questions:

    1. At what point, if any, is water flowing from Lake Okeechobee via the S-308 too polluted, dirty, or toxic to send into the St. Lucie River? What is the decision making process, if any, by the USACE for deciding if water is too dirty, toxic or polluted to send to the St. Lucie River?
    2. What law or laws set the operational priorities for the USACE in operating the Central and Southern Florida Project? Is health and human safety one of the priorities of the operation of the Central and Southern Florida Project? If so, explain how discharging toxic algae into the St. Lucie River is compliant with the mandate of protecting health and human safety. Please include specific legal citations to the document or documents setting the priorities for the Central and Southern Florida Project.
    3. From May 14, 2018 to today, how much water has flowed into Lake Okeechobee from south of Lake Okeechobee via the S310 and C-10A? How much water has been discharged into the St. Lucie from May 14, 2018 to today? Please provide your answer in gallons and acre-feet.

Birds eye view of the algal bloom in Lake Okeechobee. Photo: Steve Schimming, June 16th. Via Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch

    4. What decision-making process was undertaken for adding water to an already rising Lake Okeechobee from South of the lake, when discharges were imminent? What agency, state or federal, has the ultimate authority to approve or deny these water diversions into the rising Lake Okeechobee from the canals connecting to the S-310 and C-10A?
    5. What percentage of the water flowing into Lake Okeechobee via the S-310 and C-10A primarily come from drainage to agricultural fields? Is the water quality sampled and measured before it is back flowed via these structures into Lake Okeechobee?
    6. Why is water still flowing into Lake Okeechobee today via the C-10A while algae-filled water is being discharged to the St. Lucie River?
    7. In the last year, how much water went south from the S-351, S-352, S-354, and C-10A for agricultural irrigation in the EAA? How much water went south from the S-351, S-352, S-354, and C-10A directly to the stormwater treatment areas?

The algal bloom in Lake O is currently 102 square miles and growing.

    8. In 2017, in the wake of Hurricane Irma, water was backpumped into Lake Okeechobee from south of the lake as discharges were occurring and the lake was rising quickly. Why would the USACE discharge to make the Herbert Hoover Dike less likely to breach while simultaneously backpumping, making the Herbert Hoover Dike more likely to breach? How much water was backpumped and discharged simultaneously in 2017?
    9. How do operations of Lake Okeechobee change when the USACE discovers or is told about a blue-green algae bloom on the lake? Does the USACE warn county health departments, local officials, or residents in the surrounding communities?
    10. How frequently does the USACE test algae blooms for toxicity? How does the USACE communicate the results of tests to the public and stakeholders? Does the USACE warn residents when discharging algae? Does the USACE keep records of when discharges of toxic algae occur?
    11. Does the USACE coordinate with other federal agencies when algae blooms occur to help ensure the safety of the public? If not, why? If so, how? Please provide examples of past coordination with federal agencies during algae-bloom discharges warning residents of health and safety hazards.

As this is an ongoing emergency and human health crisis, I appreciate your immediate attention to this issue and answers prior to your scheduled meeting in Stuart, Florida on June 28, 2018.

Sincerely,

Brian Mast
Member of Congress

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