Florida congressman wants Lake O releases stopped completely on East Coast

Reporter: Stephanie Byrne Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:

One look at Lake Okeechobee, and you immediately can see its vastness and beauty. But it’s what’s lurking in the water that has people on both coasts of Florida concerned. Neither side wants the government to release water in its direction because of algal blooms.

U.S. Rep. Brian Mast (Fla-R), who represents District 18 on the East Coast, is pushing legislation that in part, asks the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to study the impact of stopping discharges from Lake O to the east.

“That provision in the Water Resources Development Act that talks about a complete end to discharges to the St. Lucie is asking that the Corps of Engineers do a study and come back with, ‘This would be the result of a total end to all discharges to the St. Lucie,’” Mast said.

In short, it’s to weigh the possibilities.

“To be fair, we don’t know everything that it looks like for the West Coast, or for the Everglades, or for the St. Lucie or the Lake Worth Lagoon or anywhere else,” Mast said. “But that’s why we’re asking the Corps of Engineers to go out there and actually look at that.”

Now retired and living in Florida, Doug Akins of North Fort Myers spends his mornings fishing.

“I get up every morning … get ready, get my gear ready and walk down to the pier,” Akins said.

Akins pays attention to what comes down the river and doesn’t want harmful discharges from the lake

“I mean, this is people’s livelihoods down here,” Akins said.

We asked water expert Barry Rosen at FGCU about the impact in Southwest Florida. He said there must be a balance, ultimately, when it comes to stopping discharges east or west. He said it likely can’t be completely stopped in case of times of emergency.

“We have to make those releases,” Rosen said.

Mast and scientists agree that the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee have different sets of water needs. Both sides are also concerned about releases developing into massive algal blooms.

Rosen said the examination Mast would like to see must determine the impacts of stopping discharges to on side or the other.

“It’s too soon to tell,” Rosen said.

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