Water quality issues in Lake Okeechobee have quickly turned into a political issue this election year in Florida. Discharges of water from the lake and toxic algae blooms are causing concern for South Florida communities which sit along waterways fed by the lake.
Lake Okeechobee’s discharge and water quality issues have produced sharp comments from the two candidates in the race for the U.S. Senate.
Now, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine is jumping into the debate, sending a letter to Gov. Rick Scott Friday morning urging him to immediately issue an executive order declaring a state of emergency and take substantive action to combat the algae blooms.
“As I write this letter, 90% of Lake Okeechobee is currently covered in toxic algae blooms, discharges are set to occur on July 9 (which could potentially spread devastation across our coastal estuaries), at least one tourism-based business has already closed up shop — and yet we have heard crickets from Tallahassee,” Levine wrote to Scott.
“While I recognize this is a long-term issue with no clear quick solution, we cannot continue to put a band-aid on a persistent problem which has been allowed to fester year after year,” Levine said in his letter to Scott.
Levine wrote that the situation in Lake Okeechobee is so critical that it’s threatening the state’s environment along both coasts. The former Miami Beach mayor is calling on Scott to issue an emergency order and hire companies to remove as much of the algae from the lake as possible, while declaring a state of emergency to allow state environmental officials to work with federal agencies to minimize the spread of the algae blooms.
Sen. Bill Nelson visited the Lake Okeechobee area Thursday where he met with local leaders to discuss the toxic algae blooms flowing from the lake into South Florida waterways. Nelson’s visit brought criticism from Scott who said the situation in Lake Okeechobee is another example of Nelson’s inaction in Congress.
“Now families are facing the possibility of another summer of algal blooms and water releases… which could have been fixed if Bill Nelson had done his job,” the Scott campaign said in a release sent out Thursday.
A month ago, Nelson released a letter urging leaders of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works to include the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) reservoir project to this year’s Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). In a statement released by Nelson at the time, he said “the Army Corps of Engineers submitted a favorable report on the project to the Office of Management and Budget, moving it one step closer to being included in the broader water bill that will soon be considered in the Senate.”
“It couldn’t be more critical to residents, fishermen and business owners in South Florida who fear another ‘lost summer’ plagued by toxic algae blooms in their waterways,” Nelson said in the letter sent to the committee.
“Twice in the past week, Nelson has expressed interest in speeding up the EAA reservoir and the federally operated Herbert Hoover Dike – both of which Nelson himself failed to fight for during his decades in Congress,” the Scott campaign said in its release.
In his letter to Scott, Levine says the last time Lake Okeechobee faced algae blooms of this magnitude was in 2016. Levine says “families fell ill, ecosystems were devastated, hotel occupancy rates dropped by almost 20 percent in affected counties, and nearly 150 businesses suffered physical and financial damage.”
Levine wrote Scott it’s “imperative” the state take action now.