On this 4th of July, we’re taking a moment to express gratitude for the protection of our right to clean water as Americans, and we commend the difference that a year and a change in operational priorities can make.
This year, a lower lake level has meant fewer Lake Okeechobee discharges. Although an active cyanobacteria bloom is being monitored in the lake, the St. Lucie estuary has been largely spared from the releases that have wreaked havoc during the hot summer months for the past several years.
Residents of the Treasure Coast won’t likely forget the summer of 2016 when bright green waves of toxic algae closed popular, public beaches on the 4th of July. Tainted by the stench of rotting mats of cyanobacteria and the fear of horrific health impacts, the day that should have been a tourism-fueled success for local businesses was instead iconically dismal.
This year, new seagrass on the sailfish flats is an optimistic reminder of how resilient this system really is, if only given the chance to flourish.
But things may be different on the west coast. There, Lake Okeechobee discharges continue with a seven-day pulse-release schedule, supposedly to maintain a healthy salinity envelope throughout the estuary. Though reduced this week to an average under the harm threshold of 2,800 cfs, a report from SCCF reported last week that flows far exceeded what the system needed. As residents wait for red tide reports to start resurfacing, scientists are still trying to estimate how many dolphins died in last summer’s bloom.
It’s a reminder that the relief we’re seeing on the St. Lucie may only be temporary. Still, it’s given us a chance to remember what makes Florida so special. The rivers and estuaries that span both coasts, the liquid heart that is Lake Okeechobee, the aquifers and springs that sustain millions of Floridians with clean, drinking water, the slow, shallow sheet flow through the Everglades and the jewel-tone tides in the southernmost reaches of Florida Bay and the Keys offer a life-blood that breeds healthy tourism and thriving businesses, prolific fisheries and boundless opportunity for recreation and enjoyment. All of this is worth fighting for.
With federal legislation like the PROTECT Florida Act, we have the chance to take immediate steps forward towards ensuring Floridians’ health and safety for generations to come. And it isn’t just a theory. Look no further than the budding seagrass beds in the St. Lucie for proof. It’s working. A new line of thinking that resulted in a draw down in the water level of Lake Okeechobee has given us back a clean water summer. That’s got to be the rule going forward, not the exception.
Clean water and the protection of human health shouldn’t be a gamble each summer, but rather a right, for Floridians everywhere. We’ll keep fighting for that, and we’re thankful to all of you who stand with us.
Have a safe and happy 4th!