The floodgates are open. Here comes the slime.
Grab your paddleboards and kayaks, and run the other way.
This is not a cheesy horror movie — it’s true-life horror on Florida’s Treasure Coast.
If you live on the estuary in Stuart, or along the St. Lucie River, summer time is algae time. This year, the ribbons of goop have arrived early.
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It comes unnaturally from Lake Okeechobee, which is overloaded with nitrogen and phosphorus from decades of being used as a toilet bowl by farm corporations, cattle ranches and fast-growing municipalities to the north.
Like clockwork, when the rains come, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers starts dumping billions of gallons from Lake O. The dike surrounding it is old, and a breach would threaten nearby communities like Clewiston.
So what is essentially a biblical deluge of fresh water, laced heavily with fertilizer, is pushed straight to Florida’s east and west coasts, which are supposed to be saltwater habitats.
The discharges go on day after day, week after week — perhaps the most massive, long-term act of pollution in the country, and it’s committed annually by the government. No president, including Barack Obama, has made a priority of stopping it.
In this extra-wet year, the floodgates opened in January. More than 120 billion gallons have poured into the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon — a mind-bending torrent.
Near one bridge in Palm City, a Kilroy monitoring device recently recorded salinity of only .11 parts per thousand. The freshwater surge has totally diluted the salt water, a fatal event for oysters, baby shrimp and other sensitive marine life.
Now hot temperatures have spawned unsightly outbreaks of blue-green algae, which scares off even the dimmest of tourists. The algae can contain harmful toxins called cyanobacteria, a word you’ll never hear Gov. Rick Scott utter.
He stopped briefly last week in West Palm Beach to tout his deep commitment to saving the Everglades. When pressed about the algae infestation, he said the state Department of Environmental Protection is diligently testing samples.
A high-school biology class could do the same job. Treasure Coast residents already know the algae is bad stuff. Halting — or redirecting — the destructive water flow is what they need.
On his visit, the governor didn’t take a boat ride on the slimed St. Lucie. He’s running for the Senate in two years, so only upbeat photo-ops are allowed. A toxic algae bloom is a major downer.
So are those health warnings posted at five riverfront sites in Martin County. Even more depressing is the “For Sale” sign at the tackle shop near the Old Roosevelt Bridge, one of many small businesses getting crushed.
Months ago, Scott declared Martin and St. Lucie counties disaster areas because of the Lake O releases. This action allowed some business owners to apply for zero-interest loans, to be paid back in six months.
But how can they repay the money when they’re losing their shirts every day?
The official rainy season is here, so the lake’s floodgates will remain open. Scott can’t stop the Army Corps from releasing the water, but he might at least try to appear angry and proactive. His idea of raising hell is writing a letter.
Congress, ruled by his fellow Republicans, won’t appropriate enough money to expedite upgrading the dike so that more water can be held in the lake.
A state plan to buy land from U.S. Sugar to route the discharges away from the coastlines fell apart when the company changed its mind. Scott put up no fight, the sugar industry having donated humongously to his political campaigns.
Some ranch and agricultural operations, including sugar growers, have reduced the nutrients in their runoff, but the sheer volume being pumped from Lake O remains deadly for marine estuaries.
The last blue-green invasion of the Treasure Coast occurred in 2013, a disaster that some locals call “the Lost Summer.” What’s happening today is potentially worse.
President Obama came to Palm City Friday for a golf weekend. A boat ride along the St. Lucie wasn’t listed on his schedule, either, though he’s not unaware of the crisis.
During a visit last year, Rep. Patrick Murphy greeted Obama with a bottle of cruddy-looking river water from the St. Lucie. There’s no evidence that the president was profoundly affected.
This time around, Obama was slated to attend a fundraiser for Murphy, a Democrat who’s running for the U.S. Senate. Let’s hope the congressman again raised the subject of Lake Okeechobee, with even more urgency.
And perhaps a tall, bright carafe of algae.