“The Everglades’ Wild Hope”

Pursuing a change in the operational management of Lake Okeechobee–like lowering lake levels in the dry season to protect human and environmental health as the Army Corps did this year–is one way to reverse Florida’s toxic tide now.


During the summer of 2018, algae discharged into the St. Lucie River from Lake Okeechobee tested positive for microsystin at a level of 495.06 parts per billion, which is nearly 50 times more toxic than the level considered safe for human contact. 

The public responded in force. Thousands weighed in as the Corps began to deliberate a new Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM), demanding water management that considered the harmful impacts to their communities. Bullsugar has worked with state and federal legislators since then, including Rep. Brian Mast, to focus on operational changes that acknowledge this human health crisis and seeks to protect all Floridians from toxic blooms by updating the existing priorities of the 1948 Central and Southern Florida Project. By proposing the protection of human health and safety as the primary consideration for operational management of Lake Okeechobee, Florida has a historic chance at a unified solution with immediate impacts for three critically important waterways.

The best part is, we already know that it works. As a result of the Army Corps holding the lake lower this year, neither coast experienced the nightmarish, toxic qualities that scored Florida national headlines the past several summers. Securing a policy change that sends more water south and west in the dry season–when the system and treatment areas have capacity–protects the environment, the economy, and human health around Lake O and the estuaries, safeguards Miami’s drinking water supply, and protects Everglades National Park and Florida Bay from seagrass dieoffs like the one that contributed to a massive fishery collapse in 2015. 

The following excerpt from Monte Burke’s “The Everglades’ Wild Hope,” paints a picture of a critical crossroads in Florida’s history. He bluntly reminds us that our water crisis, decades in the making, is approaching the point of no return. There is hope–but only if we seize hold of opportunities like the one in front of us and fight for it with all we’ve got. 

(Original work written by Monte Burke. Published in the October/November 2019 edition of Garden and Gun, available online here. )

The Everglades are dying. On this matter, there is no debate. A century’s worth of dewatering, as well as pollution, dam and canal building, corporate welfare, and indifferent (at best) or bought-and-paid-for (at worst) politicians, has led to one of the greatest ecological tragedies in the country’s history, a fall from Eden that has serious ramifications for human and economic health. The question now for the Everglades—the matter still up for debate—is whether redemption remains possible.

For the first time in two decades, there is, perhaps, reason for guarded optimism, thanks to a rare alignment of interests and events: the unified effort of moderate and radical advocacy groups, some fed-up fishermen, attention-grabbing (and interrelated) environmental devastation on both coasts of Florida, bold corporate activism, and (surprise!) even a few enlightened politicians.

That hope is the good news.

The bad news: We’ve been here before, only to see hope dashed.

We still think that redemption is possible. And with the help of bullsugar supporters across the state and beyond, we’re committed to bringing the entire system, from the lake to the keys, back to health. 

For you chance to weigh in on the next LOSOM Project Delivery meeting, tune in, in-person on online, on October 24th. Your participation in these events is crucial as the Army Corps develops the new Lake O System Operating Manual. For more info, click the graphic below.