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Rally for clean water in Clewiston

Posted at 10:58 AM, Jul 15, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-16 07:35:49-04

Hundreds gathered near the Herbert Hoover Dike in Clewiston Saturday to bring more attention to the algae problems at Lake Okeechobee.

"We’re trying to spread the knowledge that this is a major issue, far beyond what people here understand, I’ve been here 30 years and I didn’t know the depth of the problem,” said charter captain Rhett Morris.

Morris and several others drove from Punta Gorda to Clewiston to support the cause.

People living around the lake say they are tired of being blamed for algal blooms on both coasts when excess water is released from the lake.  They say the lake is being polluted by other sources.

“There’s too much spraying going on and what’s happening is the vegetation is disappearing and the vegetation is nature’s way of filtering the water,” said angler Gerry Rousseau of Naples.

Clewiston’s mayor says Lake Okeechobee is already a foot higher than it was right after Hurricane Irma, and she says most of that isn’t from summer rain.

"95 percent of the water that is coming into Lake Okeechobee is coming from the north side, that is killing Lake Okeechobee,” said Mayor Mali Gardner.

Even though work has begun to raise the height of the Herbert Hoover dike, along with building a reservoir for the excess water, politicians are taking heat for not taking action sooner.

“I have argued that one industry, the sugar industry, for the last two decades has had a near vice grip on environmental policy in the state of Florida,” said Democratic candidate for governor Chris King.  

Republican candidate for governor Ron DeSantis says Congress finally took action by fast-tracking the dike project after seeing how bad the algae blooms were in 2016.

“If there is all this bad stuff being put into Lake Okeechobee that is causing this stuff, then we need to reevaluate whether that is appropriate as well,” said DeSantis, a Congressman who represents the Daytona Beach area.

Mayor Gardner says right now it takes about two weeks to lower Lake Okeechobee by just a foot, which says she says could be a major problem if a hurricane threatens the state.