Miami News Time
October 12, 2016
Donald Trump Has Very Bad Ideas About How to Manage Lake
Yesterday Hillary Clinton joined Al Gore at
Miami Dade College's Kendall campus to give a serious, policy-heavy speech
about her plans to tackle climate change and
other environmental issues. It was one of the wonkier moments in her
campaign and a breath of science-heavy fresh air amid all the mudslinging.
A few hours later, Donald Trump took the stage in Panama City
and also threw out some ideas about environmental management. His thoughts
were, shall we say, slightly less scientifically sound.
"My administration will
address important environmental priorities like the Everglades and ensure water
quality all across America, including the fixing of water problems like Lake
Okeechobee," Trump told the crowd, sounding reasonable enough.
Then he continued, "It's amazing. You know, Lake
Okeechobee, they're always letting the water out. Do you ever notice we always
have droughts? They're always letting the water out. Keep it in! We won't have
Now, there are plenty of complaints
about the Army Corps of Engineers' handling of Florida's giant water basin. The
Corps has been accused of letting water levels get
dangerously high as Hurricane Matthew approached, and ofpolluting coastal waterways with
might be the first person ever to blame droughts on water being let out of Lake
O. Is there any truth to his claims?
Not so much, says Dale Gawlik, professor and director of
Florida Atlantic University's Environmental Science Program. Gawlik has spent
years studying avian ecology and wetland ecosystems and says Trump's idea of
keeping water levels high in Okeechobee would be a disaster for the
"If you were completely uncaring about the ecology of Lake
Okeechobee and the fish and birds that live there and just view it as a big
holding tank of water, what he's saying could have some merit," Gawlik
Most Floridians, though, care about Lake Okeechobee's ecology —
especially nearby residents who depend on it for most of their
economy. Commercial fishermen and tourists into bird watching and bass
fishing depend on a healthy lake. The survival of its animals and
plants depends on keeping the lake at a "sweet spot" of depth —
between 12 and 15 feet.
In the late '90s, Gawlik says, the Army Corps actually did let
water levels get higher. The result?
you don't let the water go down, the vegetation all died off. There were very
few small bass left at the end of that period," he says.
Beyond the ecological impacts, there's also a basic safety issue
at work. The 1928 Okeechobee hurricane breached the lake's southern edge,
killing at least 2,500 people as water surged 20 feet high through nearby
"The lake can't go above a certain level because of the
structural integrity of the lake, so you're capped out there," Gawlik
says. "We're already almost there."
So, in short, the water level can't be allowed to rise too high
because the lake will literally burst, and unless it's periodically drained to
the 12-to-15-foot range, an ecology that fuels the local economy would crumble.
"What he's suggesting is you throw out all the ecological
importance, which is tied to a lot of tourism and industry there, and just look
at drought alone," Gawlik says.