Clean Water Is at Stake

When all is said and done in the long effort to improve the quality of the water flowing out of Lake Okeechobee, Federal District Judge Alan S. Gold may go down in history as the person who took the most concrete and decisive action.

The Judge ruled in Miami in April that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, after 20 years of ducking the issue, had to take action to enforce the Clean Water Act in South Florida. The judge also heaped criticism on the South Florida Water Management District and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for failing to limit phosphorus discharges into the Everglades.

It is high levels of phosphorus that causes cattails to take the place of saw grass and in the process fundamentally change the nature of the glades. Massive discharges of bad water down the Caloosahatchee River and the St. Lucie River periodically damage the saltwater estuaries at Fort Myers and Stuart.

The EPA reported back to the judge in September with new rules. Since then some argue the new rules are not tough enough while others argue that they are too tough.

The EPA, Florida agencies and politicians have 15 months to find a reasonable compromise.

The final decision will have a big impact on the long-term prospects for the game fish population that needs clean water in order to thrive.