Three years ago, the owners Ohana Surf Shop in Stuart say high levels of algae blooms and cyanobacteria almost destroyed it.
”We easily lost at least $200,000,” said Tara Schwartz, owner of Ohana Surf Shop. “We couldn’t do our surf camp. We didn’t have anybody come in to visit because who’s going to come here and visit and swim in toxic water -- nobody. So, it’s amazing that we’re even here still.”
She and her husband say they weren’t surprised by the July 10 announcement by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which admitted to knowingly discharging toxic water into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers. This is the same response that WPTV heard from others whose livelihoods depend on clean water.
”They can’t deny it at this point,” said Travis Wilson, a Palm City resident and commercial fisherman. ”It affects us all from the crabbers to the people that fish the river all the way out to the ocean.”
In a statement Ben Hogarth, City of Stuart’s community affairs liaison wrote:
“Although the comments provided by the Army Corps of Engineers during the Congressional hearing do not change the City’s position that freshwater discharges are destructive to our community and environment, we appreciate their honesty; which validates the concerns expressed by so many members of our community.”
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In order to reduce risks to the public, in a letter to the State of Florida the Corps said it will make an operational and managerial change. This past winter, the Corps lowered Lake Okeechobee to limit toxic discharges, and people tell WPTV it’s working.
“You can go to some spots in the river now and it’s crystal clear,” said Wilson.
”My sales went up by $10,000 in one month because we have clean water,” added Schwartz.
On June 17, U.S. Rep. Brian Mast (FL-18) introduced the PROTECT Florida Act (or Prioritizing Revised Operations To Eliminate Cyanobacteria Toxins in Florida Act) which would require the Corps to prioritize public health and minimize harmful discharges. Click here for more on the legislation.
Click here for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.