In this Congressional race, clean water will be a big issue

Here’s something we’d like to see a whole lot more of.

Congressman Brian Mast is a Republican who represents the 21st District communities perpetually at risk for discharges from Lake Okeechobee. He’s been a loud and sometimes lonely voice when it comes to clean-water issues.

Earlier this year as discharges pounded the Caloosahatchee, St. Lucie and Lake Worth Lagoon, Mast demanded answers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and held press conferences to demand the floodgates be closed. Cynics may say the theatrics didn’t accomplish much, but Mast’s approach puts the onus on the agencies to justify every move, every decision.

And his focus on the issue draws more attention — more people — to the clean-water cause.

Meanwhile, other lawmakers at the federal, state, even local level sat on their hands as the discharges wreaked havoc. They uttered not a word, lifted not a finger. It’s as if they didn’t care — and perhaps they don’t.

So Mast has been pretty strong on water issues. But he’ll be facing a Democratic challenger in November who’s said he wants to be stronger.

Thomas Witkop is a political newcomer still learning the intricacies of Florida’s water crisis, but he’s expressed an intense interest in developing expertise. On his campaign website, “Waterways” is the first issue listed. At a Rivers Coalition meeting in Stuart last week he and several members of his campaign team showed up to learn.

So here we have a race in which the leading candidates are making clean water a central issue.

That is exactly what we need to see throughout south Florida.

Imagine if every lawmaker, every challenger prioritized the issue this way. Would it magically fix everything? No! But clean water would constantly be on the public agenda in a way it isn’t now. Both elected officials and challengers would be pushing public agencies to do more, spotlighting the issues, educating the public, demanding fixes.

If we want to ultimately solve these problems, that’s what it’s going to take.

So kudos to both Mast and Witkop; keep it up. And hopefully other candidates in other races will follow suit.