Nurse Pamela Joy, 57, had a question, in fact a series of questions all about the same issue: “Why is it OK for them (the Army Corps of Engineers) to flood us and destroy the Indian River? Why is one industry, sugar, more important than all the species (that live in the river)?”
She pointed to the shirt she was wearing, a blue tee shirt imprinted with the image of a skeletal fish. “This is what we have in our lagoon. We want healthy fish. This is our sad, mourning shirt.”
It was before-breakfast early on a foggy Feb. 5, and I was out to witness protestors objecting to the announcement that the Corps might start discharging as much as 756.2 million gallons of polluted water into the Indian River estuary this very day. About 25 demonstrators were gathered next to the St. Lucie Locks to show that they are fed up with a system that protects sugar plantations while causing an environmental catastrophe in the Indian River Lagoon.
As it turned out, the Corps. announced that no discharge would go to the Indian River right now, but starting tomorrow, Saturday, a dump of 1,000 cubic feet of water per second will flood the Caloosahatchie Estuary in western Florida.
Massive discharges of toxic, polluted water went into both estuaries last summer and continued into October. Now, unusually heavy winter rains have once again filled Lake Okeechobee to levels that the Corps said could be dangerous and cause a breach of the dike. If the discharge occurred while they were at the locks, the protestors would see the dirty water passing through.
Local experts, including Mark Perry, executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Institute, disagreed vehemently with the Corps assessment of the situation. “There’s no danger of a breach,” said Perry, according to the The Stuart News. He noted that it might rain some more, but then again, might not. Other experts said the Corps could release water into storm water treatment and conservation areas south of the Lake, and that they were following old, outdated protocols.
A spokesperson for the Army Corps told The Stuart News that the Corps is simply following federal law, which requires them to give priority to the sugar plantations, which were experiencing flooding from the recent rain. Water drained from the plantations was filling those storm water and conservation areas, and there was even a possibility, she said, that they would pump some of that polluted water back into the lake.
So why is this happening and will continue to happen? The sad answer to Pamela Joy’s question is this: Because the law is written that way. And the laws have been written to suit Big Sugar.##