SWFL lawmaker wants to stop Lake Okeechobee water releases

Reporter: Andrea Guerrero Writer: Matthew Seaver
Published: Updated:
An aerial image of Lake Okeechobee in July 2020. Credit: WINK News.

A Southwest Florida lawmaker working to stop harmful discharges that cause blue-green algae in our canals. They want Lake Okeechobee to operate without water releases for good.

From stinky blue-green algae to murky brown, coffee-like water along the coast, the water that flows from Lake Okeechobee has a big impact on the Caloosahatchee River.

Representative Brian Mast says he wants to clear things up. Wednesday, he introduced the Northern Estuaries Restoration Plan Act focusing on ending discharges from Lake O into coastal estuaries.

“Make sure all discharges are eliminated. All harmful discharges from the Caloosahatchee and the list goes on and on,” said Republican Representative Brian Mast.

The plan is to make the US Army Corps of Engineers build more infrastructure.

“Really, the only way to reduce discharges east and west is to build more storage, and that’s going to take a long time to do,” said Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani.

Cassani and Mast agree that restoring our ecosystems and stopping pollution can happen with the right steps.

“The problem with that is it’s so polluted with nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen it creates algae bloom, so we need the freshwater and the dry season to maintain the salinity in the estuary. But what comes with that is polluted water and nutrients,” said Cassani.

If Mast’s bill passes, the Corps must present a plan of attack to congress within three years.

“I’ll be damned if you’re going to poison our backyard and every member of our community do the same in my opinion because who are we to let government or otherwise poison us or poison our kids or poison our backyard,” said Mast.

In the past, the Army Corps has said some releases are necessary to balance the lake, protect the nearby community, and fuel our estuaries.

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