October 9, 2017
Despite Activism, Discharges Foul our Water once more
By Gil Smart
With up to 6,000 cubic feet per second of water from Lake O now pouring into the St. Lucie River, it's hard not to despair. With the lake at 17 feet and rising — its highest level since Hurricane Wilma hit in 2005 — the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will now inspect the Herbert Hoover Dike around the lake daily as they need to empty the lake as quickly as possible
Indeed, it gets even worse: Is it time to give up?
We doubt anyone will and we're certainly not suggesting they should. But with up to 6,000 cubic feet per second of water from Lake Okeechobee now pouring into the St. Lucie River, it's hard not to despair.
With the lake at 17 feet and rising — its highest level since Hurricane Wilma hit in 2005 — the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will now inspect the Herbert Hoover Dike around the lake daily. The corps also needs to empty the lake as quickly as possible, which means full-bore discharges to the St. Lucie and west to the Caloosahatchee River.
Indeed, it gets even worse: The St. Johns River Water Management District has opened the floodgates of the rarely-used C-54 canal to reduce the amount of water flowing north in the St. Johns River.
All of it is headed for the Indian River Lagoon.
We're looking at a lost autumn here, folks.
It may be too late in the season for algal blooms to proliferate, as they did during the mean, green lost summer of 2016. But river water remains very warm and extremely turbid, brown and dirty, foaming along the shorelines.
No one wants to be around this stuff.
And so while it may cause more ecological problems, it's likely to cause economic problems as well. Tourism, perhaps even coastal home sales, could be threatened.
Blue coastal waters? You'll have to go somewhere else in Florida to find them.
All this after the measured triumph of Senate Bill 10, the bill backed by Sen. Joe Negron to provide for water storage south of the lake. For years activists clamored to "send it south"; the bill is no panacea but it appeared as if clean-water activists had finally won a victory.
One step forward. Two steps back.
We've been fighting this battle for more than a half-century. The "River League," predecessor to today's Rivers Coalition, formed in 1950. Two decades later the Martin County High School senior class of 1970 declared the St. Lucie River "dead" and ceremonially buried an outboard motor.
Legislation was passed, lawsuits were filed, task forces formed, reports issued. Progress was celebrated.
Yet despite all these impassioned, Herculean efforts, we once again find ourselves in the crosshairs, victimized by a system that, to be frank, was devised specifically to victimize us.
That was the idea behind replumbing the Everglades in the first place: reclaim land south of Lake O for productive use and protect the lands and the communities around them from harm.
This is why, despite all the marches and the activism, the passion and the promises, we are where we are.
What will it take to actually move the needle?
Everyone hopes SB 10's southern storage can help; indeed, it must. But there are questions about exactly how much land will be required. Enviro-activist group Bullsugar has demanded to know whether computer modeling has been completed to determine how much land is needed for water storage and treatment. South Florida Water Management District Executive Director Ernie Marks said the modeling isn't complete.
This is shaping up to be a key issue. For if the models show that more land is needed to get the job done, it may trigger another fight between those demanding the state, at long last, follow through — and those who will insist half-measures will have to do.
There's a temptation to say half measures are better than nothing. But with turbulent waters once again fouling our waterways, we can't give in to that temptation.
Though the deck may be stacked against us, we can't give up.
And happily — we know you won't.