By: Maggy Hurchalla, Treasure Coast Newspapers Opinion
Everyone likes to blame the Army Corps of Engineers when something bad happens with Lake Okeechobee.
Unlike the politicians who give them their orders, the corps folks are soldiers. They make good whipping boys because they are not allowed to talk back. We need to remember that they are our military heroes. When we yell at them at public hearings, there’s a chance they just got back from fighting for us in Afghanistan.
Now they have a chance to be our environmental heroes.
The corps has just issued an invitation to “scoping hearings” on the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule. At the recent Everglades Conference, Col. Andrew Kelly told us to come to those hearings early and often to let them know what needs to be done. He emphasized that health and safety were overriding concerns for all corps projects.
Right up to 2006, the corps managed the lake strictly for water supply and flood control, mostly for sugar growers in the Everglades Agricultural Area. When it identified a high risk of a dike break with high water levels in the lake, irrigation guarantees took a backseat to human health and safety.
Scoping may sound bureaucratic, but your input to those hearings will affect the final LORS schedule, which will affect all of South Florida and the Greater Everglades ecosystem.
The scope of the LORS review of how to operate Lake Okeechobee needs to cover all the consequences of how the lake is operated for all of South Florida — both for people and the natural environment.
LORS can’t solve all the problems of our increasingly dysfunctional water management system until all the construction is complete in the Central Everglades Restoration Plan.
It can make sure that, in the meantime, we pay attention to the consequences and make public choices about priorities.
We know that, under the current schedule, lake discharges are killing the coastal estuaries and causing a real and present health hazard to people who live next to waterways covered with toxic algae…