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Wave of letters asks legislators to stop discharges and store water north of Lake Okeechobee

A massive letter-writing campaign has started to get the attention of swamped lawmakers in Tallahassee.

A massive letter-writing campaign has started to get the attention of swamped lawmakers in Tallahassee. The letters began arriving several weeks ago, postmarked from constituent addresses in south Florida, particularly around Lake Okeechobee, pleading with key elected officials to shut off water flowing into Lake Okeechobee. This would, in turn, prevent the need for further discharges from the lake into surrounding estuaries, which has caused massive algae blooms the past several years.

The letters just keep coming, sources say. Legislative aides handling the inflow of the letters say there are so many that they’re having to bundle and batch them into distinct stacks so that lawmakers can decide how to deal with them.

State Rep. Holly Raschein estimates she may have received more than a thousand such letters, and says their voices are being heard.

“I’ve heard from many groups, organizations and citizens coast to coast looking for real relief,” Raschein said. “I commend any efforts to support science based projects aimed to solve Florida’s water quality and quantity challenges, particularly those to address the damaging coastal discharges from Lake Okeechobee.”

Some of the letters are short and to the point:

“I reside in House District ___ and I am tired of waiting and tired of year after year of harmful Lake Okeechobee discharges. I support a solution that stops the discharges NOW!”

Others, like many that were sent to State Rep. Tony Overdorf, specifically urge lawmakers to support the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration plan. Florida Senate President Bill Galvano, working with other lawmakers, has set aside $50 million to help Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration located north of the lake, but other lawmakers must approve the earmark for the project to get the funding.

Overdorf says the letters are having an impact.

“This year we have received stacks of postcards and now letters that are imploring our office to address the discharges into our estuary,” Overdorf told The Capitolist. “The written communication has assured that their voices are heard.”

Water flows into Lake Okeechobee at a much higher historic pace than it did many decades ago. This occurred after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers straightened the Kissimmee River, increasing the rate of flow. Experts and scientists say that this, combined with years of new residential development in Orlando and increased runoff from paved areas, has pushed Lake Okeechobee to the limit of what it can naturally handle.

“I am thrilled that my constituents are choosing to be involved and want to have their voice heard,” said Overdorf. “We get hundreds of emails per day and therefore receiving written letters has an even larger impact as they stand out from our normal data to day communications.”