An unseasonably wet dry season has brought record rainfall to Florida not seen since the Great Depression. Lake Okeechobee levels have reached dangerously high levels, threatening the Herbert Hoover Dike and forcing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin releasing Lake Okeechobee water into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers this month in attempts to lower the level in the lake.
Right now, four billion gallons of polluted lake water is being released into the Caloosahatchee River. Every day.
Water pours through the Franklin Lock and Dam at a rate of 70,000 gallons per second on Feb. 23, 2016. Photo: Maria M. Garcia
In a press conference this week with Lee County Commissioner Frank Mann and local realtor Shane Spring, Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg said, “enough is enough.”
With tourist season fast approaching, the pollutant-laden lake discharges are fouling local waterways and beaches and already impacting the local ecology and economy along the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers.
This is all too familiar for residents along the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee. Three years ago, during the “Lost Summer” of 2013, lake discharges depressed tourism and the local economy. A study commissioned by the Florida Realtors found that pollution and poor water quality resulted in nearly a billion dollar loss in family home values in affected areas.
Addressing members of the media in front of the Franklin Lock and Dam, Eikenberg implored the Florida Legislature to pass “Legacy Florida” legislation, which would dedicate $200 million annually to Everglades restoration projects that would store and treat Lake Okeechobee discharges before sending south into the Everglades and out to Florida Bay. The bill, which has earned bipartisan support, is currently working its way through the legislature.
CEO Eric Eikenberg addressing Lake O discharges in southwest Florida on Feb. 23, 2016