This one, simple rule change can slash toxic blooms

Need a shred of good news on the toxic collapse of Florida waterways on both coasts? Here’s one: We don’t have to wait years to fix this. Our elected officials can act right now to stop fueling toxic blooms in our communities. One simple legislative act can change everything: Making human health and safety our single highest water management priority.

St. Lucie River Water Sample. Photo by John Moran

We can all agree that our government shouldn’t hurt or kill us, right? It shouldn’t drown or poison people. No matter what else its policies do, they should keep us safe.

That’s what congressman Brian Mast is proposing: legislation that puts people first in our water management.

Because if people were the top priority, the federal government couldn’t play Russian Roulette with Lake Okeechobee, stockpiling billions of gallons of reserve irrigation water behind a crumbling dike, betting with human lives on the weather forecast. This year wasn’t the first time they guessed wrong.

If people were the top priority, our state government would leave room in its vast network of canals and filter marshes and water storage areas, so they’re not over capacity with sugarcane runoff when the lake rises, forcing toxic discharges into residential areas. This year we’re all paying a horrific price to keep sugarcane dry.

It’s not complicated, it’s not expensive, and it shouldn’t be revolutionary. Dumping cyanobacteria on people and fueling toxic blooms that make us sick and pile death onto our beaches should be water management agencies’ last resort. Today it isn’t.

It’s great to hear multiple Florida politicians talking about legislation, but we more than talk. We need legislation that’s crafted to do what it should: protect people.

So far Mast has been the one asking the USACE and SFWMD hard, long-overdue questions about why Lake Okeechobee is managed in a way that puts people at risk again and again. Mast lives near the St. Lucie River, and like the rest of us he’s worried about his family’s long-term health risks from cyanotoxin exposure. He’s seen the sugarcane industry’s influence over our water management policy and legislation. It’s part of the reason he voted against sugar subsidies, and refuses contributions from the industry.

Mast is proposing action, not just words: changing the backwards priorities that jeopardize the health and safety of millions of Americans every year. This legislation should be simple and direct: discharges that feed toxic blooms are endangering lives–and protecting us should be our government’s #1 job. No exceptions, no conditions. No lawmaker should oppose that. With support from Mast’s colleague in congress, we can eliminate a major contributor to our water crisis with the stroke of a pen.

Elections matter. There are candidates all around Florida committed to doing what it takes to clean up our waterways. You can find some of them in Bullsugar’s Primary Voter Guides. We’ll highlight more for the November elections.

Please read them, share them, and vote. It’s the fastest, most effective way to stop the political cycle that made Florida’s water a threat to human health and safety.