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By Maria Sachs

August 29, 2013

After more than seven hours of technical testimony from engineers, scientists, and activists, the hundreds of people in attendance and the Senators on the Select Committee knew that the problem of pollution in our water is complex.

But the moment that the young kids from the community came forward and spoke with simplicity, the room fell silent as we all reflected on their words. These are the “River Kids” who grew up fishing, swimming, and kayaking in the pristine waters of the Indian River Lagoon. Now with the pollution as toxic as it is, they can’t even touch their water playground.

The entire ecosystem is suffering. Birds, dolphins and manatees are dying in extraordinary numbers because of toxic algae blooms and bacteria in the water. The Health Department posted signs warning people not to fish, drink or swim in the water. The stench of released overflow water pouring into these estuaries is so strong that business owners say tourists aren’t coming close to area beaches for their usual summer activities.
The pollution starts with water streaming off paved surfaces and agricultural fields laden with pesticides and fertilizers, septic tank effluent, petroleum products and animal wastes. Originating near Orlando, it flows south into Lake Okeechobee. Because of our unusually heavy rainy season, high water levels threaten to breach the 75-year-old Herbert Hoover Dike.

In order to keep the lake from breaching and flooding the surrounding cities, the Army Corps of Engineers releases millions of gallons of polluted lake water out into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers.

As the state senator from Palm Beach and Broward counties, I am keenly aware that this environmental crisis is not far away from us. Our homes lie just south of the affected area. We must guarantee that the problem is solved before the toxins move south, distressing our waters. This is of critical importance for all of us.

I will fight to find the short- and long-term solutions that will ensure public safety. Our health, our environment, and our economy depend on it. Florida’s water is our future.

State Sen. Maria Sachs represents District 34.