Is EAA Irrigation a Higher Priority Than Human Health?

There’s something new in the air in South Florida communities along the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries. And believe it or not, this time it’s not cyanobacteria–it’s hope. 



Floridians have enjoyed this summer, largely free of discharges, thanks to efforts by the Army Corps to keep Lake O lower. Operational changes specifically address growing concerns about dangerous health impacts related to cyanobacteria exposure. After repeated requests for greater transparency and solutions to Florida’s water crisis, our government is proposing an immediate change to the management of Lake Okeechobee to protect the health and human safety of all Floridians.

That sounds like a win that everyone can get behind… Right? 

Not so fast. At the beginning of the month, U.S. Sugar filed a lawsuit opposing government action to protect communities from toxic algae discharges, reminding all of Florida whose interests they are most concerned with. Hint–it’s not yours or mine. 

U.S. Sugar is striking back at another lawsuit filed earlier this summer, in which environmental groups implore the Corps to consider toxic algae discharges when managing Lake Okeechobee and to address the rising public health concern in communities deluged with harmful releases. 

So Big Sugar is now flipping the tables. It claims “similar concerns” with environmental groups. Buried in its misdirection, U.S. Sugar eventually lays out its chief concern: that the Corps’ emergency deviation from normal lake management threatens its own irrigation use in the event of a drought.

With an uptick in recent rains, water shortages did not occur this year. The fact that we dodged a drought obscures the real reason for Big Sugar’s anger: the Corps chose to manage the lake for the health of Floridians, rather than for the industry’s worst-case scenario. 

In the past, these “what if” scenarios in water management have aligned with Big Sugar’s lobbyists, papering over the inequities to Florida taxpayers. 

If you live in a community subjected to toxic discharges linked to known health hazards, you are thinking: the Corps should apply that same worst-case scenario logic to solve the risks of harmful human health effects. What if exposure to toxic algae causes an increase in neurological disease? And if pets can die after coming into contact with contaminated water, what could happen to humans? Who would be held accountable then? These are questions Bullsugar brought to the forefront.

That’s why Bullsugar is determined that human health should have a clear priority when managing the lake. Our health and the health of Florida waters are tied together, and together we must let decision makers know: our health is more important than their sugar.

TC Palm’s Gil Smart captured our own exasperation at the latest stunt from Big Sugar in the following excerpt, reprinted with permission from TC Palm.

Original work written by Gil Smart. Published 8/9/2019 by TC Palm, available online here.

U.S. Sugar, like others in the Everglades Agricultural Area south of the lake, depends on lake water for irrigation. Less water in the lake reduces the risk of discharges in our direction, but also might reduce the water available for irrigation, or for municipalities like West Palm Beach which draw municipal water from the lake.

There are a lot of players, and the Corps’ playbook, developed back in 2008, sought to keep everybody reasonably happy.

Well, except us. 

Discharges have always caused environmental harm, but periodic toxic algal blooms now threaten human health in our community.

The Corps — finally! — has begun to acknowledge this, and took the lake lower this summer.

We caught a break, for once.

And here’s U.S. Sugar saying: Can’t have that.

So much has changed this year: We finally have politicians and government agencies working toward a balanced approach that protects us all, and yet, somehow U.S. Sugar’s disregard for its neighbors never changes.

To read Gil Smart’s original column in its entirety, click here.