March 28, 2022, Tampa- The boaters, bicyclists and joggers were out in force, on Sunday night. Not so, the swimmers. Lake Okeechobee has been something of a sink, for pesticides, over the past half-century. It is a matter of expedience, for the sugar industry and other agricultural concerns-with only passing interest in the welfare of their neighbours on either coast. Fort Myers, on the Gulf, gets much of the toxic release, but Palm Beach isn’t spared either. More consistent watchers than yours truly point out: https://www.tcpalm.com/story/opinion/2022/01/14/florida-must-enforce-pollution-rules-lake-okeechobee-our-view/6510462001/.
I can see where this body of water could easily be another bonus for Florida, if the will to correct archaic views on the processing of sugar and the disposal of toxic elements were in place. The berms would have to come down, and jetties/marinas built, over a decade of correction. We have seen cases where people in Belle Glade, on the south shore of “Lake O” and Pahokee, on the north shore, became terribly ill from the presence of waste that got into their drinking water. That aspect has been somewhat corrected- Big Sugar can’t have its workforce debilitated. The plagues that hit both coasts, though, with algae blooms off Fort Myers, Cape Coral and Port St. Lucie, in recent years, have scarcely been addressed.
I spent about six hours in Clewiston, on the southwest corner of Okeechobee, just long enough to see the effects of the current malaise on the populace. As in any community with a naturally salubrious environment that has been ravaged, (Gary, IN and Niagara Falls, NY also come to mind), there is fair measure of civic pride, just below the surface. The manager of the motel, where I stayed on Sunday night was effusive in telling me about the places “where the action is” and was outside in the evening, hosing down the parking lot-just enough so there was no runoff. Lake Okeechobee has a trail encircling it, which ought to be an integral part of a tourist and hiker-infused economy.