Residents protest pollutants in Lake Okeechobee, potential flooding
PAHOKEE, Fla. (WSVN) -- Angry Floridians said more and more pollutants in a local lake are threatening their livelihoods and recent downpours could potentially flood their communities.
"Save our river!" chanted residents.
Hundreds of protesters showed up Sunday to confront Florida Governor Rick Scott about the pollutants in Lake Okeechobee. "This is Microcystis algae, the toxic blue-green algae," said Charter Boat Captain Mike Conner as he held up a bottle filled with the toxic substance.
Conner said he has had no customers in two months. "I think we're in for some real problems, fish kills, and it's only August. We still have three, four months of this left," he said. "God forbid we get a hurricane or big tropical rains, all bets are off."
Florida residents are arguing that recent rainfall has raised Lake Okeechobee to record levels and a serious storm could leave entire communities under water.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ranks Lake Okeechobee one of the country's most vulnerable to lakes to fail, so the army is working vigorously to repair and replace faulty culverts around the lake. "I think we have some scenarios that show eight to 12 feet depths of water," said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesperson John Campbell. "Flooding communities and homes, absolutely."
Record flooding could displace tens of thousands of residents and the city of Pahokee could be underwater. "Yes, it could. That's a real legitimate concern right now," said Pahokee Mayor Colin Walkes. "That's the reason we have the dike. If wasn't here, we would already be flooded out."
To alleviate pressure on the dike and prevent catastrophic flooding, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the dike gates to maximum outflow, sending billions of gallons of water per day downstream for a month.
The Corps has since reduced the lake's discharge, but the consequence of max outflow remains and bacteria and toxic algae killing estuaries and impacting tourism on both coasts of Florida.
The governor blames Congress for allowing the levees to be in the conditions they are in, forcing the State to choose between saving lake towns like Pahokee or coastal towns downstream.
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