STUART, Fla. — U.S. Rep. Brian Mast has invited the Army Corps of Engineers to swim in the St. Lucie River's "increasingly toxic water."
The Palm City Republican called for Lake Okeechobee discharges east to the St. Lucie River and west to the Caloosahatchee River to end immediately, he wrote in a letter Thursday to Lt. Gen. Todd T. Semonite, the Corps' commanding general.
"You are leaving our community to die," Mast told Semonite, referring to the lake's polluted freshwater discharges that carry toxic algae to the St. Lucie River.
"If you think this is hyperbole," Mast continued, "then I’m extending an open invitation to the leadership team at the Army Corps to stand by your policy: Come to Stuart, Florida, for a swim in our increasingly toxic water.
"If you feel the water is acceptable for our children to play in, for us to fish in and for our endangered animals to live in, then it should be good enough for you to swim in also."
The discharges will continue at their current rate, Army Corps spokesman John Campbell said Thursday afternoon. He did not comment on the invitation.
Mast also demanded a stop to discharges in a speech Thursday morning on the floor of the U.S. House.
"When it's not black, it's green with toxic algae," Mast said of the water color.
The discharges are destroying the river environment, Mast said. "And when you destroy our environment, you destroy our community. You destroy us, every one of us."
Toxic algae blooms
Since the discharges started June 1, nearly 11.5 billion gallons of Lake Okeechobee water has entered the St. Lucie River. Many more billions of gallons have flowed into the river from canals stretching into farmland in western Martin and St. Lucie counties.
The massive influx of water has made the normally salty river estuary fresh, and the fertilizer runoff in the water provides food for algae.
Some of the water discharged from the lake brought algae with it.
Since June 4 — four days after the discharges started — 21 algae blooms from the lake through the St. Lucie River have been reported by and to TCPalm.
So far, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has found four locations with toxic blooms. All four contained the toxin microcystin at levels far below what the World Health Organization considers hazardous in recreational use.