U.S. Congressman Brian Mast (FL-18) this morning took his fight against toxic discharges from Lake Okeechobee to Congress as the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment held a hearing on “The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and Water Management in Florida.” Rep. Mast secured a commitment to hold the hearing in July during consideration of the Water Resources Development Act.
“This is how we’re poisoned year after year, and I don’t want anybody to make a mistake: we are poisoned. The Corps and the EPA have both stated the water that we’re discussing right now is toxic,” Rep. Mast said in his opening statement. “There is a complicated patchwork of infrastructure and even more complicated policy about where to move water and when to move water. While all of the policies may be complicated, the goal is simple: it’s use taxpayer dollars to store water for irrigation south of Lake Okeechobee, then demand that my community be the flood control for when too much water is stored; that we be the septic tank for this private water reservoir, and that’s the problem. This is wrong. My community is not going to be an afterthought. We’re not going to be flood control for U.S. Sugar or anybody else just because they want to keep Lake Okeechobee artificially high…even though it hurts the rest of Florida.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s management of waterways in Florida has often led to environmental and ecological degradation of the estuaries connected to Lake Okeechobee. Over the last 25 years, Congress has authorized more than $5 billion in funding to build critical infrastructure projects needed to create additional capacity, allow for operational flexibility and restore the Everglades. Unfortunately, special interest groups—led by the Florida Sugar Cane League—are doing everything in their power to prevent additional flows of water south to the Everglades.
During consideration of the Water Resources Development Act, Rep. Mast had secured a bipartisan agreement to include provisions in the bill prioritizing water flows south of Lake Okeechobee, protecting the stability of the Herbert Hoover Dike, sending beneficial dry season flows to the Caloosahatchee and prioritizing public water supply. At the last minute, however, lobbyists from the sugar industry swooped in to oppose these provisions, and at their urging, the previously bipartisan agreement was prevented from being included.
Today’s hearing, which you can view online here, addresses this issue and focuses on water management as part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), including the issues of water quality, toxic algal blooms and Lake Okeechobee discharges.