A controversial proposal from U.S. Representative Brian Mast to lower water levels at Lake Okeechobee could cut off drinking water at Mar-a-Lago Resort and much of the rest of South Florida, according to data from the South Florida Water Management District. Mar-a-Lago, owned by President Donald Trump, has been referred to as the “Winter White House.”
Mast, a vocal supporter of Trump, has found himself embroiled in controversy after proposing that the lake be lowered to just 10.5 feet in order to reduce the need to pump water out of the lake to avoid flooding during the rainy season. The preferred water level for the lake is between 15.5 feet and 12.5 feet. In recent years, pumping water to the estuaries has triggered algae blooms in some coastal communities, which is what Mast’s proposal is attempting to address. But water managers say that lowering the lake to that level is a severe threat to the drinking water of other communities, potentially affecting hundreds of thousands of people in South Florida, including President Trump’s compound at Mar-a-Lago.
According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mast’s proposal to lower Lake Okeechobee to 10.5 feet would result in:
- Severe reduction in capability to deliver water south of the lake for any beneficial purpose.
- Increased risk of permanently compromising freshwater supplies due to saltwater intrusion
- City of Okeechobee’s withdrawal for water supply needs is compromised, impacting public health and safety
- Primary water supply source for the City of West Palm Beach’s Grassy Water Preserve no longer available, affecting 100,000 residents
The data also states that lowering the lake to such extreme levels would force state officials to impose water usage restrictions on communities in South Florida that would impact more than six million people.
Governor Ron DeSantis, who ordered a shake up of the South Florida Water Management District in January, has come out in support of Mast’s proposal, according to a recent story in the Palm Beach Post:
Gov. Ron DeSantis has echoed the request, and in a surprise move Friday, the Army Corps of Engineers began lowering the lake when it was just 12.86 feet above sea level — a measurement within the traditional 12.5 to 15.5 foot comfort zone.
Residents in West Palm and across South Florida have accused Mast of ignoring their need for drinking water in favor of constituents from his district who have complained vociferously about the algae blooms.
Brad Stewart, a spokesman for Rep. Mast deflected the criticism in comments to the Palm Beach Post, saying that Mast didn’t pull the 10.5 foot number out of thin air.
“Anybody trying to convince people that he is advocating for water levels where negative impacts would occur is being disingenuous,” Stewart said.
Critics say Mast is gambling on the hope that Florida will get the same level of rain as in past years. But, they say, even a moderate drought could cause a water shortage that would plummet Lake O to dangerous levels.
Here’s the full breakdown of the impacts from various lake leves according to water management district data: