A massive toxic algae outbreak is covering southeast Florida’s waters with fluorescent green slime, health officials warn people not to touch the water, and thousands of upset residents are protesting along the St Lucie and Indian Rivers.
But as this health and environmental crisis unfolds, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is in federal court, trying to wiggle out of a binding legal agreement it made in 2009 to limit the sewage, manure, and fertilizer pollution that sparks the algae outbreaks.
The EPA made the agreement as part of a settlement in a 2008 Clean Water Act suit filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, St. John’s Riverkeeper, and the Sierra Club. The suit challenged the decade-long delay by the state and federal governments in setting limits for the pollution.
Now, instead of keeping its word to enforce the Clean Water Act in Florida, the EPA is trying to modify the agreement—called a “consent decree”—so that fewer waters are protected and big polluters can keep dumping sewage, manure and fertilizer into our public waters, sparking the algae outbreaks like the one sliming the St Lucie and Indian Rivers.
“It’s as if the Department of Bridges has decided not to have any standards for a huge class of bridges and now those bridges are collapsing,” said David Guest, Earthjustice managing attorney for Florida. “The slime covering the rivers on the southeast coast are like those collapsing bridges. It is clear-cut proof that the Clean Water Act is not being enforced. Here it is, the prime of summer, and people can’t fish or play in the waters they love without endangering their health. That’s wrong.”
Earthjustice is now challenging the EPA’s attempt to change the consent decree in the Northern District of Florida.
Thousands of residents gathered at a local park in Stuart, Florida last weekend to protest the government’s coddling of polluters in a gathering organized by a local surfer. They had signs picturing dead manatees and had an inflatable dolphin on a stretcher, to publicize the hundreds of dead dolphins, manatees, fish, and birds which have washed up dead on the rivers. Several protesters said they have gotten nasty skin conditions and health effects from the pollution, and that the toxic water has made their pets sick.
“No one wants Sewerfront Property,” read one sign. The residents plan another rally this Sunday along the beachfront, where the pollution coming out of the rivers is spreading into the Atlantic.
- Photos of the outbreak and ongoing news coverage are available at TCPalm's Our Indian River Lagoon and Save the St. Lucie River and Martin County Wildlife.
- For more information and news about Florida’s algae outbreaks—their causes and solutions—visit Florida Water Coalition.