Thursday night, President Donald Trump landed in Florida ahead of his highly anticipated visit to Lake Okeechobee and the Herbert Hoover Dike.
Trump toured both the dike and the lake by helicopter Friday, where he was able to see areas where blue-green algae has already begun to develop. Recent tests show pockets of algae in the Caloosahatchee on its way toward Fort Myers.
An agreement between the Trump administration and Florida officials has sped up repairs to the 143-mile dike in hopes of preventing another water crisis like in 2018.
Trump blasted Democrats while touting his administration’s infrastructure efforts during the appearance as he surveyed efforts to fortify the aging dike.
Surrounded by Florida officials, Trump claimed the dam project was “dying until we got involved.” He also talked about health care, his new threat to close the U.S.-Mexico border and advertised an appearance later Friday with Small Business administrator Linda McMahon at his Palm Beach estate.
The new repair date for the dike is 2022, thanks to funding from the Trump administration and the state. Officials are hoping this reduces the need for algae-laden discharges during the wet season.
MORE: What exactly is the Herbert Hoover Dike and why is it important?
As warmer weather approaches, the concern of another bloom is rising. John Cassani with the Southwest Florida Calusa Waterkeeper organization, says this year the blooms came come back even earlier.
“Right now we’re seeing high levels of nitrate when compared to last year,” said Cassani.
But he does worry that the dike could affect residents who live around the lake.
“I think the motivation for repairing the dike is to store more water in the lake and we’re finding that they won’t do that if you elevate the level of the lake…that’s going to damage the lake and we don’t wanna see that happen,” said Cassani.
A budget proposal Trump released this month includes $63 million for Everglades restoration projects, about a third of what Florida lawmakers and environmental advocates have requested. Sen. Marco Rubio (R) requested $200 million for the project.
Democrats are urging the White House to add funding.
Local impact of Herbert Hoover Dike
The repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike are critical to many Florida communities. For people who live near Lake Okeechobee, the dike serves as flood protection for the vital agriculture industry.
But here in Southwest Florida it’s a tool to reduce stormwater runoff, which can cause blu-green algae to clog our canals.
Trump said he knows how important it is to get the dike back in shape.
“This project was dying until we got involved,” Trump said. “This was really dying. You know in 1928 over, 5,000 people died here. Everything broke, and they had a problem that turned out to be a total catastrophe.”
Trump received support during his visit from farming communities around the lake to homeowners in Cape Coral. Many people were happy to see the president renewing his focus on water quality. However, some neighbors are remaining cautiously optimistic.
“It’s nice to see that he’s coming out to an area that is benefiting,” said Peter Formica in Cape Coral. “Hopefully by what he’s going to do especially for the lake. A lot of people rely on the lake.”
Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Rick Scott used Trump’s visit as an opportunity to push for more federal funding to help our water quality and restore the Everglades.
“They’re all excited about it, but I won’t get excited about it until I see a few summer months with no algae in my backyard,” Formica said.