Governor hopefuls field question about lake discharges

FORT MYERS — A question about the discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the east and west highlighted the Florida Democratic debate held Wednesday.

Democratic candidates for Florida governor include Chris King, Andrew Gillum, Jeff Green, Philip Levine and Gwen Graham.

Chris King put the blame for the lake discharges on the sugar industry which he described as “the industry that has had a vice grip on environmental policy throughout the state of Florida.”

“We have got to build a water treatment reservoir and storage facility south of the lake,” he said.

“We’ve got to do it fast,” he said. “Our estuaries on the east and west side of the state are hurting.”

“The first thing you’ll get from me is a governor who actually believes in science,” said Andrew Gillum.

“When I’m elected governor, we’re going to work with the sugar industry to re-establish the southern flow of water into the Everglades, before we kill off that very valuable system in this state,” he said.

“We’re also going to have to have some tough conversations with communities north of Lake Okeechobee around the kind of development that’s happening north of the lake.

Those local governments, too many of them are too eager to bring in any development at any cost. Those nitrate levels are flowing into our groundwater, corroding the system and resulting the kind of degradation of our environment that we see today,” he said.

Jeff Green said he had the opportunity to visit Lake Okeechobee in person and claimed it was “worse in person than it is on television.

“It’s disgusting,” he said.

“We already have reservoir land south of the lake. The only problem is that our government has not funded the plumbing to push the water into that reservoir, so instead we push it to the estuaries,” he said.

“We have to clean up the lake,” he said.

He said the water quality problems are coming from “septic systems, big sugar and development.”

“We have a short-term solution and a long-term solution,” said Philip Levine.

He said the short term solution is to make sure the water management boards are “no longer filled with Rick Scott cronies.”

“We need to begin monitoring this water,” he said, adding that Rick Scott’s administration cut back funding to the Department of Environmental Protection.

“We need to regulate the amount of nutrients that are going into that lake,” he said.

“We have to deal with septic tanks. We have to deal with nutrient runoff. We have to make sure we have people on our water management boards that actually understand the questions of water quality and water quantity,” said Gwen Graham.

“We have to stop talking about Everglades restoration and actually get it done,” she said.
While the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir is a good start, it’s not enough, she continued.

“We have to have a much broader, much shallower reservoir south of the lake,” she said.


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