The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Jerry Phillips (850) 877-8097; Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Lake Okeechobee Pollution Levels Spike Out of Control

Everglades Restoration Imperiled by Imploding South Florida Water Quality


Water pollution in Florida's Lake Okeechobee has reached new record
levels and threatens to get worse, according to U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency figures jointly released today by Public Employees
for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Council of Civic
Associations, Inc. The key pollutant, phosphorus, has approximately
doubled in Lake Okeechobee over the past decade and is now at a level
four times the legal limit, making prospects for restoring the
Everglades remote.

In a September 8, 2009 e-mail circulated to
state and federal officials working on Everglades restoration issues,
EPA official Eric Hughes summarized the latest "Total Phosphorus" data
for Lake Okeechobee:

  • Current levels are "approximately 4
    times" the legal maximum level of phosphorus for the 730-square mile
    lake. The phosphorus figures would have been worse except that "two
    consecutive 'dry' hydrological yrs (2007 & 2008 water years)"
    slightly depressed the rate of increase;
  • In the 2009 period,
    an estimated 656 tons of phosphorus will be added to Lake Okeechobee,
    the highest pollution level ever recorded in the nation's fourth
    largest lake; and
  • Phosphorus levels have steadily worsened
    in Lake Okeechobee, with the current five year pollution average more
    than three times the first recorded five year average in the late

"There is a 300 square mile 'muck zone' on the
bottom of Lake Okeechobee containing 100 tons of phosphorus for which
there is no clean-up plan," stated Florida PEER Director Jerry
Phillips, a former water enforcement attorney with the Florida
Department of Environmental Protection. "No wonder Lake Okeechobee is
like the elephant in the living room that everyone absolutely dreads

Florida is legally committed to reaching a maximum
limit of 140 tons of phosphorus per year (compared with the current 572
ton-per-year average) in Lake Okeechobee by 2015, a mandate that now
seems impossible. At the same time, a series of federal court decisions
have excoriated EPA's lack of oversight for failing to enforce Clean
Water Act protections in the Sunshine State.

"The Everglades
cannot be restored until Lake Okeechobee is cleaned up because we
cannot pump dirty water through the national park," said Civic Council
Association President Ann Hauck. "Billions of dollars of taxpayer funds
have been wasted on a restoration plan that is not restoring anything."

the nutrient-laden waters of Lake Okeechobee are diverted to protect
the Everglades, algal blooms result in the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie
estuaries, causing devastating losses for both local fishing and
tourism industries.

"Lake O is being run like a giant algal
bloom assembly line," Phillips added, noting that both PEER and the
Council of Civic Associations have been calling for an investigation of
the utter breakdown in EPA management and enforcement. "EPA needs to
clean house in its Atlanta regional office and bring in some folks who
know what they are doing."

Read the EPA phosphorus data e-mail

Look at the abysmal EPA water pollution record in South Florida

Find out more about the pollution dynamics in Lake O

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.