‘Slime time’ on Lake O becomes national story

The “Gray Lady” has noticed the blue-green gunk on Lake Okeechobee. The world may soon notice, too.

On its website last weekend — and on the front page of the print edition Monday, July 10 — the New York Times published a lengthy piece titled (on the web) “It’s Toxic Slime Time on Florida’s Lake Okeechobee.” The story, featuring VoteWater and our sister organization Friends of the Everglades, focused on how the rising lake could result in toxic discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries in the coming weeks.

From the story:

About a decade ago, Okeechobee’s outflows began triggering intense downstream algae outbreaks as green as anything Sherwin-Williams might concoct. The coastal impact was particularly bad in 2013, 2016 and 2018, causing beach closures, business shutdowns and even some residential evacuations… .

You’ve seen this movie before, and you know what happens.

As of this writing Lake O stands at 14.87 feet, nearly two feet higher than this time last year. U.S. Army Corps is holding off on discharges; no lake water is being flushed to the estuaries. Even so, the Caloosahatchee is seeing blue-green algae blooms triggered by local runoff.

The situation could soon get much worse. As Friends of the Everglades’ executive director Eve Samples told New York Times writer Dan Egan, “We’re looking at a bullet in the chamber here.”

If that bullet gets fired, so to speak, expect the resulting environmental catastrophe will become an international news story. Once again the world will read about how Florida’s waters are horribly polluted and Florida has failed to solve the problem.

But wait! The EAA Reservoir will save us! Yeah, not for years, if then. At best, the reservoir will reduce discharges, but it won’t end them.

To end discharges once and for all we need more land, to store and clean more water.

That’s going to require legislation, lawmakers who understand what’s at stake. It’s going to require landowners in the EAA — Big Sugar, mainly — be willing to play ball.

Big Sugar, after all, is a big reason for the big pollution in the lake. For years the growers used the lake and the Everglades itself as an industry toilet; and still today, Big Sugar remains the biggest impediment to lasting change.

But if blooms explode in the estuaries this summer, if businesses and the coastal real estate markets take a hit, if people have to worry about their pets and their children getting into the toxic algae — the case for lasting change, for urgent action now, will be impossible to deny.

We’ll be there pushing for it. And with your help, maybe one day we won’t have to see these stories on the front page of the New York Times or anywhere else.