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Feds Urged to Speed Up Fix of Lake Okeechobee Toxic Discharges

U.S. Army Corps Plans to Extend Discharges Through 2022

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—April 22, 2019
Contact: Jaclyn Lopez, (727) 490-9190, jlopez@biologicaldiversity.org

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— Five conservation groups urged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers today to expedite efforts to curb releases of toxic, nutrient-rich waters from Lake Okeechobee that help drive catastrophic algal blooms.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Calusa Waterkeeper, Bullsugar, Save the Manatee Club and the Sierra Club filed comments today on the Army Corps’ plan to revise its management of Lake Okeechobee. The Corps intends to follow its current plan until at least 2022.

The toxic releases harm protected marine species like sea turtles and Florida manatees and trigger harmful algae blooms that limit use of waterways, cripple local economies and endanger human health.

“Every year of foot-dragging is another year of deadly, toxic algae blooms,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Until the Army Corps controls harmful releases from the lake, this senseless pollution will keep damaging the health of Floridians and wildlife.”

In December 2018 the Center, Calusa Waterkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance filed notice of their intent to sue the Army Corps, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service for failing to assess harms from current lake management to plants and animals protected under the Endangered Species Act.

It is well documented that the current discharge schedule harms the rivers, their estuaries and marine animals. Instead of taking legally required steps to end these harmful discharges, the Corps’ management of the lake continues to prioritize agricultural needs. The releases, which carry algae and nutrients that accumulate in the lake, cause significant damage to water quality and wildlife. 

“In 2008, the Army Corps changed how we managed the lake to ensure human health was protected from a dike breach,” said Alex Gillen, policy director with Bullsugar. “In 2019, the Army Corps must manage the lake to ensure human health is protected from toxic algal blooms.”

Past analyses of the Corps’ management of the lake completed in 2007 failed to consider the long-term impacts of high volume discharges beyond three years, discounted the effects of harmful algal blooms and did not consider habitat impacts triggered by climate change.

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