Photos Show How Nasty Lake Okeechobee Pollution Is; Congressional Meeting Tomorrow
Tomorrow, Rep. Patrick Murphy a 30-year-old Democrat from Jupiter; and Congressman Trey Radel, a Republican from Fort Myers, are scheduled to hold a public briefing to members of Congress regarding the massive pollution that's flowing from Lake Okeechobee through the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers to pollute estuaries as far south as the Lake Worth Lagoon.
Rep. Patrick Murphy
In a pretty impressive feat of coordination, the congressmen have managed to assemble an agenda that includes a lot of the key players -- people from the Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of the Interior, the state Department of Environmental Protection, and various Treasure Coast leaders and scientists. In addition, busloads of activists -- "River Warriors" or "Lagoonatics," as some of them are calling themselves -- were also traveling by bus and plan to attend.
Although the federal-government shutdown may still cause some changes in the agenda, Murphy's office said the meeting was still on. It was set to be live-streamed here beginning at 9 a.m.
Water flow in South Florida has been a problem since engineers started tinkering with Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades almost a century ago.
But things came to a crisis this year. Manatees started dying at the beginning of the year, and when heavy rainfall landed in Lake Okeechobee this summer, the lake became backed up. Water, polluted from both agricultural runoff and from septic tanks in homes around the lake, was diverted through rivers to the east and west coasts. Problems are compounding: There's the initial pollution, and that in turn is causing algae blooms, which are contributing to killing fish and leaving bigger creatures that feed on them to starve. Additionally, the fresh water from the lake has seriously messed up salinity levels in the estuaries.
Keri West is a Port St. Lucie activist who will be traveling to Washington on Thursday with the group. She says that in the past two months, businesses have been closing left and right in her area -- "fishing charters, sailing boat people, boat sales people, real estate people" -- and blames the pollution for deaths of several people who have died of infections the past few months.
"All of us have boycotted sugar," she says, because of the runoff-producing sugar cane farms surrounding Lake Okeechobee.
She said she hopes that the governor will be pressured to ask the president to declare a state of emergency and that the various agencies involved will hurry to implement key parts of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan that would restore water flow south of Lake Okeechobee. She also hopes to see pesticides banned.
"These chemicals cannot be used in Florida anymore!" she said. "Our river has just been abused and raped."
Congressman Murphy was not available for comment yesterday, but his office offered use of these images he took during a helicopter tour recently:
Constituents also sent in other shocking images of the pollution -- see here.