This is an update on this story.
Before the canal was made to connect the lake to the St. Lucie and the Caloosatchee Rivers, the water flowed from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades keeping the water levels of the “River of Grass” high with little chance of drought and properly recharging South Florida’s aquifer. Now, only 13% of the water from Lake Okeechobee is discharged into the Everglades themselves with 23% going to the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) leaving a whopping 64% of the lake’s nutrient rich fresh water to be dumped into the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. Attention has been brought to state officials on the matter, and very little has been done to help our once beautiful flourishing rivers. The big money of a group being referred to as “Big Sugar,” advocating for the previously thriving sugar cane growers in the Everglades, are against selling the 153,200 acres of land, which was once used by U.S. Sugar south of the lake; thus keeping it from being bought to preserve the Everglades, and thus stopping the South Florida Water Management District from executing its plan to save the Everglades and the waterwaysfrom being damaged by the fresh nutrient rich waters of Lake Okeechobee. The South Florida Water Management District’s plan, is to have the land bought by the state and to then redirect Lake Okeechobee’s excess water to a treatment plant where it can be cleaned, stored, and sent to the Everglades and aquifer where it belongs. Like all issues related to big money, it is difficult for the public to make any sort of impact on the decisions made by the government. Rather than protecting the land and restoring the Everglades in good faith, the Florida legislators have put a big price tag on the Sugar Land and slashed the Water Management District’s budget by 30 percent making saving Florida’s most valuable land. Taxpayers will be buying if and only if legislation allows them to do so, for a hefty grand price tag of about $350,000,000 for the remaining 46,800 acres of available land now in 2016. Those impacted by the effects of the drainage of Lake Okeechobee are protesting and fighting for the draining into the rivers to be stopped. Protests, public speaking events, fundraisers and slews of awareness events have taken place all over the state of Florida in the past five years since the first purchase of the Sugar Land and it’s doing little to no good. Those who hold legislative office in Florida are not affected by the damaging effects of the Lake’s draining and for the past five years have selfishly vetoed all plans to preserve the Everglades by executing the South Florida Water Management District’s plan, and have rather chosen to finish projects already started in the state such as drainage systems near the coast which could and would be solved if the drainage could be redirected to where it belongs.
In South Florida, the ecosystem is the economy. The area thrives off of a water based way of life and when that is taken away there is very little left. Commercial fishermen cannot fish when all of the fish are dead and floating atop the riverways from algae blooms and deadly salinity levels. All water activities whether it is boating, skiing, paddleboarding, or just enjoying a day out in the water, are halted because the low salinity of the water is the perfect breeding grounds for flesh eating bacteria called vibrio vulnificus, which killed two people last year in South Florida and left a multitude of individuals sick. These estuaries and coastal ecosystems that are being completely destroyed and killed are habitat for over 4,300 species of plants and animals, including 33 endangered and threatened species, the most biodiverse ecosystem in North America. People are dying, dead, sick, or out of a job with nothing to look at in their once gorgeous and thriving town but dead river life and brown water. Nothing is being done. The State Legislators of Florida are turning a blind eye to the damage that can easily be halted and eventually reversed to make themselves happy by keeping the big money of Big Sugar happy rather than thinking of the many beings that are suffering for the few. By discharging the damaging waters to the improper locations, the Army Corps of Engineers who are controlled by the State, are putting an end to the lives of many beings that they could easily save. The lack of consideration of all involved in the decision making of draining of Lake Okeechobee is absurd. Floridians are standing up for their waterways and their wildlife and to save the lives that cannot save themselves and the government is doing nothing to help due to the lack of convenience that the situation possesses. In due time, South Florida’s most beautiful beaches, rivers, most precious estuaries, South Florida’s aquifer and the Everglades will be damaged beyond repair despite the efforts of those vying to save it, with the solution to all of the problems within arms reach due to the neglect of the state’s legislators of its most valuable asset.