"River Warriors" Organize to Fight Lake Okeechobee Pollution

Florida is currently experiencing an environmental hell. Our rivers and estuaries -- basically, the coast's nurseries for baby sea life -- are being devastated.

Blob-like, the deterioration of South Florida's waterways creeps forth inexorably from the chemical dump formerly known as Lake Okeechobee. The water there has been polluted by high levels of phosphorus in run-off from agricultural areas surrounding the lake.

(Here are some pretty scary pictures of the pollution.)

A particularly wet summer caused dangerously high water levels in the lake, leading to the dumping of lake water into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers. This has led to algae blooms and other toxic consequences affecting estuaries in Stuart on the East Coast and Fort Myers on the west. The effects are spilling into the Indian River Lagoon and, most lately, Lake Worth Lagoon.

See also: - Rick Scott's Cuts Dilute Water Laws

Every action has an equal (hopefully) and opposite reaction, though. And in this case, thankfully, the reaction has been citizens organizing to fight the pollution, mimicking the bloom of the algae with outbursts of social networking.

The strongest examples have been in Martin County, where the Facebook group "Save the St. Lucie River and Martin County Wildlife" since early August has resulted in public demonstrations involving thousands and has another event set for this weekend; and the group "Save the Indian River Lagoon" has drawn nearly 5,000 members.

Later entrants in this digital arena are the groups "Save the Caloosahatchee River," formed September 3 and already with 1,000 members, and "Save Palm Beach County's Waterways," just four days old this afternoon and ninety-odd strong.

The groups' pages are filled with news reports, scientific studies, and action alerts of official meetings. They're places where activists of varied affiliation and just plain interested citizens mingle and share, like an enviro version of the Star Wars cantina scene.

Nyla Pipes, a Port St. Lucie resident and a cofounder of the Indian River group, started the Palm Beach County group. She took a break from a meeting last night with her "river warriors" and told New Times she found it "kind of shocking" when she moved here from environmentally conscious Washington state three years ago and found that "fights we'd been fighting in the Pacific Northwest since the '70s still need to be fought here."

Pipes hopes to hand the Palm Beach County group off to Palm Beach County residents, leading to a "peaceful, educated, grass-roots movement" that will be "showing up at public meetings and spreading the word. Someone had to set it rolling, because there just isn't much time left."

We'd add to that: Don't buy the hype about Rick Scott's come-to-Jesus environmental awareness. When push comes to shove, Ricky and his boys still bow to the money, as Ag Commish Adam Putnam made clear to industry group Florida Water Forum last week, in which he boasted to the room of "victory" in a major environmental court case. Translation: "We don't care how you do it up north at the EPA; we'll set our own pollution rules."

Citizen awareness and pressure are critical to preservation of our water.

Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers Palm Beach County. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.

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