Florida Sugar Industry Is Polluting The Water
The scuzzy water that’s wrecking this year’s tourist season comes courtesy of Big Sugar and other agricultural operators around Lake Okeechobee, which sits in the state’s sparsely populated center roughly between Palm Beach on the east coast and Fort Myers on the west coast. It’s America’s second biggest freshwater lake in the lower 48, and thanks to ridiculously permissive policies, it’s become a private dumping ground for mega-agricultural operations. These corporations pump the public’s water from the lake to irrigate their fields, then send the water; polluted with fertilizer and other farm chemicals, back into Lake Okeechobee.
Because heavy winter rains have raised the lake level and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dike around the lake is old and weak, South Florida water managers have been releasing some 70,000 gallons of polluted lake water per second into two rivers which lead out to the coasts: the Caloosahatchee, which empties into the Gulf of Mexico, and the St. Lucie, which empties into the Indian River Lagoon and then into the Atlantic.
Ever since water officials opened the flood gates to let the polluted water out of the lake on Jan. 30, people have been sounding the alarm.
Feeling the pressure, Gov. Rick Scott asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to break from its usual practices and drain Lake Okeechobee south into the Everglades instead of out to the coasts, and the Corps complied. As you can imagine, that approach is certainly raising serious questions. Remember, American taxpayers are paying billions to clean up the Everglades, and the federal government sued Florida decades ago for failing to keep agriculture’s polluted runoff out of Everglades National Park.
The solution has nothing to do with moving the water around. It’s about cleaning it up. And that’s where Florida and the federal government have continually been falling down on the job. Only a month ago, the state legislature passed a law that eliminates pollution permits for agricultural operations around Lake Okeechobee. You read that right – no permits. Instead, these multinational corporations get to work on the honor system.
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