South Florida Cities Split Over Lake Okeechobee Back Pumping

Jan 27, 2017
Originally published on January 26, 2017 2:13 pm

Cities in South Florida are torn about a recent ruling that allows water managers to back-pump water into Lake Okeechobee without federal permits. The U.S. Court of Appeals in New York made the decision Wednesday, Jan. 18.

Around this time last year, the city of Belle Glade in Palm Beach County was flooded. It was considered Florida’s wettest winter since 1932.

Belle Glade’s Vice Mayor Mary Ross Wilkerson thanked the South Florida Water Management District for pumping some of that water back into Lake Okeechobee at a February 2016 meeting.   

"In a big rain like we had last week, the water just sits in our cities until you finally turn on the pumps the core built for us 60 years ago," she said. "It may not be good as what they have on the east coast but it is all that we have." 

Wilkerson asked the water district to not forget about the people in her city when debating back pumping. And now because of a federal appeals court decision, the water district can back pump more easily, avoiding costly federal permits.

But that decision includes a permit that monitors and limits polluted water-- dirty water that would flow through the Caloosahatchee River to places like Sanibel Island. Sanibel City Mayor Kevin Ruane said the environment took the hit in this case.

"We just need to think outside the box... That's our responsibility now the court has spoken," said Ruane. "We need to give them other alternatives than just to put it back into Lake O."

“Other alternatives,” Ruane said, like storing water on public or private lands. There’s been great debate statewide about storing water north or south of the Lake. But for now, Ruane said he’ll continue to work and speak for the environment. 

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