Legislation to Stop Discharges Introduced in US House

It’s official: Congress has the legislation needed to cut off the flow of nutrient pollution and toxic blooms to our coasts. With your help, it can become law. Here’s what you need to know:

Cyanobacteria on the St. Lucie

What the legislation is and does:

Called the Stop Harmful Discharges Act, HR 6700 was filed by Rep. Brian Mast on Tuesday. This bill proposes one simple change to our water management policy: Put people first.

Human health and safety is not a priority in our water system today. The danger of discharging toxic blooms and the nutrients to feed them into our communities is a non-issue in the Army Corps’ management of Lake Okeechobee. Worse, the agency’s claims that it protects people in the Glades from a dike failure are false: The federal government’s dry season policy of keeping as much water in the lake as possible actually increases the risk of a breach. (Mast put it bluntly: They’re lying to us.)

The Stop Harmful Discharges Act makes human health and safety–including protecting citizens from exposure to toxic blooms–a federal priority, for the first time.

Water managers would decide how to keep people safe, but one obvious option is to store less water in the lake, to leave more capacity for spring rains and storms. Our Summer of Death might never have happened if the Corps had taken that precaution this year. (Or given the Caloosahatchee water that local officials begged for last spring.)

In congressional testimony the South Florida Water Management District assured Mast that stakeholders who need lakewater would still get it, even if the level were kept lower. Ecologists and fishermen would see a healthier, more productive lake. And people from coast to coast, including communities south of the lake, would be protected from floods, toxic blooms, serious health risks, economic collapse, and the loss of the quality of life that brings people to Florida in the first place.

What the legislation doesn’t do, for better and worse:

The Stop Harmful Discharges Act leaves three things alone: the flow of clean water to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay; the progress of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) projects; and agreements with key stakeholders including the Miccosukee Tribe and the Seminole Tribe. All of these are vital to the health and future of South Florida.

The legislation doesn’t fix our broken system, it doesn’t address the sources of nutrient pollution, and it doesn’t replace the EAA reservoir. The only long-term solution to our water management crisis is adding more storage and treatment throughout the system–especially south of Lake Okeechobee–to clean and deliver more freshwater to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay (not to the coasts!) and clean up pollution at the source. 

But the Stop Harmful Discharges Act does challenge the status quo. Today releasing toxins and pollution into our communities–flushing the toilet–is the easiest way for our government to manage this system. But it’s not safe, it’s not economical, and if protecting people becomes a priority, it won’t be acceptable anymore. This legislation can change the future the moment it’s passed–not in 20 years.

What you can do:

  • Read the fact sheet on the Stop Harmful Discharges Act and please share it
  • Call or write to your representative in congress to ask for support for HR 6700
  • Vote. Brian Mast pledged to fight for clean water in 2016 when his district was choking on toxic algae–now his Stop Harmful Discharges Act can make a difference on both coasts. There are more candidates like him, republicans and democrats, committed to solving Florida’s water crises–you’ll see them in Bullsugar’s 2018 General Election Voter Guides, coming later this month.