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What's Green and Chokes Lake Okeechobee?

Apparently, the sight of toxic algae blooms spreading across South Florida's public waterways last year wasn't enough to convince the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to do the right thing and toughen standards for nutrient pollution.

So on March 9, we filed suit in U.S. District Court to compel the EPA to set more protective pollution limits for Lake Okeechobee and its tributaries. Lake Okeechobee is the second-largest freshwater lake wholly within the continental United States, second only to Lake Michigan.

The lake's size is impressive but its water quality is shameful. Animal waste and fertilizer pour off agricultural operations around the lake, fueling out-of-control algae and turning the lake's once-clear sandy bottom into muck.

Since Lake Okeechobee is a critical link in the Everglades ecosystem, setting the right pollution limits is critical.

Our suit, filed on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida and Save Our Creeks, Inc., challenges the EPA's TMDL, which stands for "Total Maximum Daily Load" for the lake. It boils down to figuring out how much more pollution a water body can stand before it collapses.

In 2006, EPA set a numeric limit (77 parts per billion) for phosphorous pollution that protected the lake. But after agriculture corporations mounted an aggressive lobbying campaign, the EPA caved into polluters demands.

In 2008, the agency upped the phosphorous limit to 113 parts per billion, which won't adequately protect the lake or its tributaries. Our lawsuit asks the court to invalidate EPA's 113 ppb limit for the lake and its tributaries on the grounds that, among other things, it is arbitrary and capricious.

The suit also seeks to compel EPA to go back and set more protective pollution limits. We're hoping the EPA, under a new administration in Washington, will do the right thing for the lake, for the Everglades, and for South Floridians who deserve a clean lake not an agricultural sewer—for their drinking water supplies.

Tags:  Water