TALLAHASSEE – With portions of Florida's east and west coast waters clouded in dark, murky
pollution, many of the Sunshine State’s coasts appear barer than ever, and it’s
not from tiny swimsuits.
Polluted water from Lake Okeechobee is rushing into
the ocean at 70,000 gallons per second, David Guest, the managing attorney for
Earthjustice’s Florida office, wrote in a recent blog post.
The black waters
are harming marine life, scaring away visitors and causing “severe economic
losses” for businesses, Gov. Rick Scott stated in an executive order
addressing emergency pollution management.
In response to the economic hardship and public frustration, Scott
declared a state of emergency on Feb. 26 for Lee, Martin and St. Lucie
counties. The governor’s office is calling for President Obama to provide
federal funding to repair the Herbert Hoover Dike.
According to Guest, heavy rain and the weak
dike led to water managers releasing massive amounts of polluted water from
Lake Okeechobee, through the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers, and into the
Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic.
While the lake’s pollution issue may be more blatant today, with social
media highlighting the black water spreading across the ocean, the weak dike
and polluted water are not new issues.
Similar funding was
requested in 2013 to fix the dike. At that time, the governor released a press
statement calling for “the federal government to meet its obligations in
maintaining the federally operated Lake Okeechobee dike system and fulfilling
its cost-share obligations to the state of Florida for environmental projects.”
In the same release, Scott also committed to speed up the C-44 Storm
Water Treatment Area project by making a $40 million investment, which would “reduce
the time needed to complete this project by half,” and “clean diverted water
from Lake Okeechobee and storm water runoff year-round.” Two years later, dike
repairs and better treatment methods are still needed.
“We need the president to
fully fund the $800 million in needed repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike so
discharges are no longer needed," Scott stated in a press release in February.
A few days after the state of emergency
release, Scott also announced the activation of an emergency operations
center for Florida’s businesses. He commissioned the Florida Department of
Economic Opportunity (DEO) to assess the financial damages that the Lake
Okeechobee water releases are having on businesses.
Along both coasts, several local businesses have experienced financial losses
because of the pollution. Hobe Sound’s Reel Life Bait and Tackle is one of
those businesses. Owner Lillian Graziano recently told the Florida Record that while her business isn't "right at
ground zero,” the pollution “travels everywhere” and has affected it along
with several other water-sport businesses. She added that although the pollution
will eventually clear out, it’s scaring away visitors and locals at the
worst possible time.
Many people are concerned about whether or not the fish are
safe to eat or if the water is safe to touch, she said.
Looking ahead, Graziano said she hopes a
solution is found and implemented soon to stop the flow of Lake Okeechobee’s polluted
water from reaching the coasts.
“If they don’t really fix the problem, then it’s
never going to change,” she told the Record.
Graziano and many others have used social
media to voice their desire and the need for change.