Florida's Toxic Algae
More than a century ago, the Everglades were drained for development, agriculture and, subsequently, flood control. A network of canals, levees and water-control structures has fundamentally changed the natural ecosystem. Today the Everglades is half the size it was 100 years ago.
Lake Okeechobee, the “liquid heart” of the Everglades, and the rivers that drain it to the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean — the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers, respectively — are part of this human-altered system that helps sustain the greater Everglades region.
Much of what remains of the historic Everglades is heavily polluted by phosphorous, nitrogen and mercury from urban and agricultural sprawl. The lake in particular has been besieged by nutrient pollution for decades, causing unprecedented blooms of toxic algae.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers then flushes the nutrients and toxic algae down to the estuaries, where they worsen red tide. The Corps’ discharges of polluted water into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers from Lake Okeechobee are killing countless marine species and crippling local economies.
Making matters worse, following years of regulatory failures and mismanagement, in 2021 Florida regulators and Gov. Ron DeSantis authorized the discharge of hundreds of millions of gallons of wastewater from the Piney Point phosphogypsum stack into Tampa Bay. The Piney Point gypstack is a mountain of toxic waste, topped by an impoundment of hundreds of millions of gallons of process wastewater, stormwater and dredged spoil from Port Manatee. The discharge fueled a deadly red tide that killed dozens of Florida manatees.
The Center is working to protect Lake Okeechobee and all of Florida — both people and wildlife — from toxic algae.
In 2020, joined by other conservation groups, we won a lawsuit compelling the Corps to update its management of Lake Okeechobee and address the significant harm to the rivers and their estuaries — and to endangered species that depend on them, from Florida manatees to sea turtles and coral.
In 2021, with our local allies, we sued Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida regulators for allowing the release of hundreds of tons of hazardous pollutants from Piney Point into Tampa Bay and groundwater.