TALLAHASSEE (AP) - Three environmental groups sued the Army Corps of Engineers, the state and a water management district Monday over smelly, slimy green algae blooms that have been polluting the Caloosahatchee River in southwest Florida.
The lawsuit in U.S. District Court here alleges the corps is violating state and South Florida Water Management District regulations by diverting water that should be going into the river to 500,000 acres of sugar cane fields instead.
"The Corps' refusal to supply enough water from Lake Okeechobee is wrecking the Caloosahatchee," said David Guest, a lawyer for the environmental legal group Earthjustice. "It's an environmental crisis, and it's also an economic one."
Earthjustice sued on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, Conservancy of Southwest Florida and Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida.
Corps spokesman John Campbell said he had nothing to say, citing a policy against commenting on pending litigation. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the water management district had no immediate comment.
The suit seeks a court order declaring that the corps' operation of water control structures violates state laws and regulations and directing it to comply with those requirements.
The environmentalists say algae outbreaks in eight of the past 11 years, including one last week, have resulted in health department warnings against touching or drinking the water or eating fish caught in the river. It's also caused Lee County to shut down a public drinking water plant that uses river water.
Tourism has suffered because the green slime has caused a stench and fish kills on Gulf of Mexico beaches near the mouth of the river, they said.
"We are lucky to live in one of the most beautiful places in the country, but how many tourists will keep coming here when the river is covered with stinking slime?" said Andrew McElwaine, president of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.
Florida Wildlife Federation President Manley Fuller said marine and estuarine habitats vital to recreational and commercial fishing are being harmed.
"The polluted water is killing the sea grass nurseries at the estuary where fish and shellfish spawn," Fuller said.