Water is life, unless said water has been poisoned and is toxic, then water kills life.
As the Standing Rock movement enters the next phase of their struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the world has for once mustered en masse for an environmental cause, many incredibly important battles for water and life are being lost around the nation, in want of attention and action, yet kept off the radar of public consciousness.
Take for example, the ongoing disaster at Florida’s largest inland body of water, Lake Okeechobee, which is now a poisoned wasteland spreading deadly algae blooms from coast to coast.
This event is the direct result of man-made activity, primarily the policies, politics and practices of surrounding sugar cane farming, although cattle ranching, suburban development, and golf courses are also major factors.
“How many more marine animals must perish before we make a change in our water management programs?
How many more ecosystems must be permanently damaged before our heads turn? How many communities must suffer from inadequate water conditions before we decide that enough is enough? The answers to these questions still remain unclear.” [Source]
The lake, and many of the connecting bodies of water, all the way to both the Gulf Coast and the Atlantic Coast, is so chemically out of balance it is producing dense, thick toxic green algae blooms, fueled in their growth by heavy fertilizer run off and heavy rains.
The result is a creeping mass of choking, oxygen-less sludge that kills everything in its wake, including sea mammals, fish, and birds.
“Local industry has long been using Okeechobee’s waters as a dumping ground for an assortment of chemicals, fertilizers, and cattle manure. David Guest, managing attorney of the Florida branch of the environmental law group Earthjustice, called the lake a “toilet.” While the pollution was once confined to the lake, it now flows toward Florida’s coastal communities via local rivers. The water, which is flowing out of the lake at 70,000 gallons per second, will soon pollute the ocean waters in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.” [Source]
The series of levees, dikes, and canals that handle run off from the lake in times of heavy rainfall, such as earlier in 2016, are now suffering from extensive contamination and even though the public has at times rallied in protest for political change, the contamination continues in large part because of the political factors involved with the local industries.
Recently, Weather.com published an authoritative article on the structure and struggles of the political grid lock that has prevented meaningful change in favor of a solution.
“With the freshwater heart of South Florida pumping deadly toxins into the sea for the foreseeable future, the long, costly effort to turn swampland into cropland must find a way to overcome its own haunted history of hubris — a legacy whose dark underside includes death, destruction and despoliation.” [Source]
They go on to describe the history of the issue which has been building for nearly a century, and is ever-exacerbated by the politics surrounding the sugar industry, which is extraordinarily profitable for a small handful of business magnates in the areas.
“The roots of Florida’s toxic algae conflict lie in 19th century ambitions to transform vast swamps south of Lake Okeechobee, viewed as “worse than worthless,” into productive farmland. Remaking millions of acres, as explorer Buckingham Smith put it in 1848, would earn a settler “a high place in public favor, not only with his own generation, but with posterity. He will have created a State!”
To accomplish the feat, farm settlers and engineers set themselves to the task of redirecting the natural flow of an almost unimaginable volume of Florida’s ground water, which had been until then southerly through the Everglades to the peninsula’s tip and into the Florida Bay.
Initially, these early settlers fortified the southern shore of the lake with primitive muck levees that were easily overwhelmed by Florida’s rampaging storms. That led engineers to dig canals to carry excess water, when necessary, to the St Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers, which run east and west, respectively.
The St. Lucie drains into the Atlantic and the Caloosahatchee into the Gulf. There, the excess freshwater from the lake would be but a mere drop in the proverbial saltwater bucket.” [Source]
The fact that a lake the size of Okeechobee can be reduced to a toxic dump, killing wildlife and local industries like fishing, with only minimal coverage and minimal outrage says a great deal about the value our culture places on water and life.
Some believe the damage can be reversed, in time, if only public policies were updated to stop the contamination and contribute to the rehabilitation of the lake, yet again, we find that life is not as well-represented in the halls of government as industry and money are.
How much further can we venture down this path without suffering the most extreme of repercussions?