(TMU) — Last week, during a meeting of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, an Army Corps of Engineers official admitted that the agency has been dumping toxic water from Lake Okeechobee into local estuaries without any warning to the public.
For years, this has been an open secret among the area’s residents, who have seen the consequences of this policy on the region’s wildlife, but this is the first time the government has admitted that it is actually happening.
Republican Congressman Brian Mast questioned Maj. Gen. Scott Spellmon of the Army Corps during the meeting, asking him about the water that was being diverted from Lake Okeechobee into estuaries on the coasts of Florida. Mast asked if the water that was dumped into the estuaries contained cyanobacteria.
“Has the Army Corps of Engineers transferred toxic water from Lake Okeechobee to the east through the C-44 [canal] into the St. Lucie Estuary and the Indian River Lagoon and to the west through the Caloosahatchee River?” Mast asked Spellmon.
Spellmon admitted that they were aware that the water was “toxic” and often created “harmful algae blooms.”
After the meeting, the agency made an official announcement stating that they would be stopping the practice immediately.
“[Now] that the Army Corps acknowledges that the water they are discharging is toxic, they cannot continue to willfully and knowingly poison our community,” the announcement said, according to Miami New Times.
According to Politico journalist Michael Grunwald, the government began diverting water from the lake nearly a century ago, after a hurricane caused a flood that killed thousands of people.
“Back in 1928, a major hurricane hit an already full Lake Okeechobee and burst the dikes, killing thousands of people. Since then, the government diverts water during the wet season to prevent another event like that from happening,” Grunwald explains.
Still, Grunwald says that the Army Corps should have notified the public about what they were doing.
Critics and environmental advocates have pointed out that government officials often turn a blind eye to water pollution in the state.
Environmentalists say that Florida politicians are failing to enforce the “polluter pays” amendment that was voted into the state constitution in 1996. If properly enforced, polluters would be held financially responsible for their environmental impact.
“You have a major industry that is saying, ‘We are so powerful we don’t want to pay for our pollution treatment. … Taxpayers, you are going to pay for it. Tough luck,’” said Albert Slap, board member for the Friends of the Everglades environmental group.