Trump discusses Lake Okeechobee at campaign rally in Florida

Posted at 1:54 PM, Oct 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-14 10:52:45-04

PANAMA CITY, Fla. -- Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has been hitting the campaign trail hard in Florida this week. At a recent campaign rally in Panama City, he even addressed the Lake Okeechobee controversy for the first time.

Although some say his comments were a bit off base.

"My administration will address important environmental priorities like the Everglades and ensure water quality all across America, including the fixing of water problems like Lake Okeechobee," he started.

"It's amazing. You know, Lake Okeechobee, they're always letting the water out. Do you ever notice we always have droughts? They're always letting the water out. Keep it in! We won't have any droughts."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been steadily releasing large amounts of lake water throughout 2016 from Okeechobee into rivers to the west and east, the Caloosahatchee River towards Fort Myers, and St. Lucie River towards Stuart.

MORE COVERAGE: Fox 4 Toxic Water page

The reason for these water releases is to relieve dangerously high water levels in the lake due to record rainfalls this winter and tropical weather this summer.

Scientists say Trump is off the mark about the water releases and the function of lake Okeechobee.

Dale Gawlik, professor and director of Florida Atlantic University's Environmental Science Program, tells the Miami New Times that Trump's idea of keeping water levels high in Okeechobee would be a disaster for the environment.  "If you were completely uncaring about the ecology of Lake Okeechobee and the fish and birds that live there and just view it as a big holding tank of water, what he's saying could have some merit."

There's also the matter of the safety of surrounding communities. "The lake can't go above a certain level because of the structural integrity of the lake, so you're capped out there," Gawlik says.