Wearing red caps emblazoned with “Make Lake O Great Again,” elected officials, business owners, and college students, all with ties to the communities surrounding Lake Okeechobee, rallied at the Florida Capitol Complex in Tallahassee in support of more state funding to “slow the flow” of the untreated water flowing into the lake. In previous years, polluted runoff from lawn fertilizers and septic tanks in Central Florida caused runaway algae to grow and thrive in Lake Okeechobee, choking local communities along the coastal estuaries that are fed from water flowing out of the lake.
Anglers For Lake Okeechobee (AFLO), a group of professional and recreational fishers, brought in top bass fisherman Scott Martin, who spoke during the press conference. AFLO is pushing to fix Lake Okeechobee and the estuary crisis. The group says it is “committed to focusing on the science and a long-term effort in the halls of Tallahassee and Washington to ensure that becomes a priority.”
“Slowing the flow north of Lake Okeechobee will help alleviate the discharges to the east and the west when combined with other planned projects by up to eighty percent,” said Martin. “It is the key to fixing the big problem in the State of Florida with water.”
Martin told the assembled media that Lake O needs to be treated as the filter it was intended to be, not a reservoir to hold muddy water.
“I want to thank the Senate for funding it for 50 million dollars, and I want to encourage the House to get fully behind this project and fund it even more,” Martin said.
Political and local leaders also attended the rally, including Clewiston Mayor Mali Gardner, and marina owner Mary Ann Martin.
“It is important to us that this funding be appropriated to make this investment for the very future of not only the Lake communities and the town that I love, but also for our coastal neighbors,” said Gardner. “It is the right project, it is the right time, and I ask everyone who is involved in making this decision to please stand up for Lake Okeechobee. It is the heartbeat of our community, it is the heartbeat of the Everglades, and it is truly one of the best natural resources the State of Florida has.”
“I saw this Lake forty years ago, and it was a sight to behold.” said Martin. “We need to slow the flow, we need to have storage north of Lake Okeechobee, we need to clean that water before it comes into our Lake. We have a job to do, and we depend on the Legislature here in Tallahassee to help us promote the mighty momentum to make Lake Okeechobee great again.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District have plans in place to combat the algae problem, but those plans require time and substantial investment by the federal and state government. The plans include increasing water storage capacity, which would improve Lake O’s water level, in turn improving the overall health of the lake. Plans also call for improvements to the number of timing of water discharges from Lake O, and restoring wetlands, all of which would combine to reduce the impact of high-nutrient runoff that causes algae to grow.
“The Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project is a crucial step forward for everyone who calls Lake Okeechobee and the lands around it home,” said Ramon Iglesias, who operates a marina on the lake. “Increasing storage capacity, restoring wetlands, controlling the damaging discharges; the pursuit of these goals is something that anyone who knows anything about the ecosystem should support. Lake Okeechobee is invaluable to every Floridian, and projects like these are exactly what is needed to help our children and grandchildren thrive along its shores.”