The Weather Channel Was Right — Lake O is Toxic

Last week, and three years running now, Lake Okeechobee was covered in blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria. In 2015 and 2016, it turned extremely toxic. In 2017, it will likely do the same. 

NASA 2016 satellite image of Lake O algae bloom

Fortunately, initial FDEP test results have not detected toxins in the water yet. However, a bloom that tests non-toxic one day can turn toxic the next. We need frequent, scheduled testing with published results so we know as soon as the water is unsafe to touch.

In 2015, broke the story on social media. Once it was public, Joe Negron told the Army Corps to close the locks, and they did — for a whole two days, before resuming the dumping at high volume.

In 2016, the bloom was visible from space, and the toxic discharges coated our estuaries and beaches in putrid “guacamole-thick” slime.

While this created a national embarrassment for Florida, and awoke many to the links between cyanobacteria and scary diseases like liver cancer, Alzheimer’s and ALS — some of sugar’s closest friends (like US Rep Tom Rooney) continued to insist “Lake O was not toxic” and Martin County septic tanks were to blame for the toxic mess.

To which everyone with a brain, eyes and a conscience said, ahem, “Bullsugar.”

So now the Lake is once again covered in blue-green algae.

Thanks to Jacqui Thurlow Lippisch and her husband Ed for this shot over Lake O, July 2017 

After three years in a row, isn’t it clear that The Weather Channel got it right last December — Lake Okeechobee has a toxic algae problem?

Can we agree it is immoral and unacceptable to discharge toxins on the nearly million people who live, work and play along the path of discharges to the St Lucie and Caloosahatchee, let alone without warning them? In 2017, in the United States of America?

Can we agree that it would be criminally negligent to delay the solution, or only do a half-way solution? That $20 billion worth of Everglades Restoration needs a written goal of “Zero Toxic Discharges?”

Is there a Florida politician who will introduce legislation with these 4 points?

  1.  Our government shouldn’t poison us.
  2.  If our government must poison us because the plumbing is broken, warn us first.
  3.  CERP is a $20 BILLION project, and counting. Fix the plumbing so you don’t poison us anymore, and do it as fast as possible.
  4.  We (the taxpayers and the ones being poisoned) expect and deserve #3 in writing. Make it a written goal of CERP. Zero Toxic Discharges.

Due to a dry spring Lake O is not yet high enough for another bout of toxic discharges this year, and for that we are grateful. The Toxic Summer of 2016 was one we don’t want to repeat ever again.  But what about the people who live, work and play near Lake Okeechobee?

Last year, the sugar industry called us “rich, coastal elites” for complaining about the slime, and said we were trying to use the algae bloom to attack Glades residents. As we dealt with the green slime, we did not feel “elite.” Our aim was not to destroy others but to protect our residents against what has clearly been identified as a serious public health hazard.

On the coasts, local health departments warned people to stay out of the water and avoid eating fish from the estuary.

Local coastal health departments warned people to stay out of the water

As far as we know, there were no such warnings on Lake Okeechobee where there was a 200 square mile toxic algae bloom. Children played in the water at lakeside beaches. Residents and tourists ate the fish from the Lake. Workers in the EAA dealt with irrigation water from the Lake.

Those who claimed that they were the ones who cared about Glades lives — Glades Lives Matter, Clewiston Chamber of Commerce, Lake O Business Alliance, EAA Farmers and many others — completely ignored the health threat to the nearly 100,000 souls living around the Lake.

The coasts might (or might not) dodge the bullet of toxic discharges this year, but we are concerned about the long term health effects of the current lake bloom on all those who live around the lake and who visit the lake.

As Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch so eloquently stated in her blog last week:

“I happened to notice when I visited the DEP website that DEP states:  “Blooms are naturally occurring.”  …Yes this is true; so is cancer.”

It is way past time that state and regional officials implement a plan for tracking, testing, and research that protects everyone exposed to these blooms. This is not about coastal residents vs. farmworkers. This is about all of us.