This is the moment we’ve been bracing for. Last Saturday, the Army Corps of Engineers opened the flood gates from Lake Okeechobee to the northern estuaries — allowing billions of gallons of polluted water to flow, untreated, into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers and the Lake Worth Lagoon.

If you haven’t seen these damaging discharges, check out our video footage from the St. Lucie Lock & Dam. A whitewater torrent is flowing from the gates, and it could continue until April 1. The Army Corps of Engineers is using these fragile estuaries as relief valves in an attempt to lower Lake Okeechobee ahead of rainy season. The effects are swift and violent. Salinity levels plummeted in the St. Lucie River this week, threatening oysters and seagrass beds that had just started to recover after a toxic Lake O deluge in 2018. No toxic algae has been confirmed (yet), but that’s a distinct possibility if the discharges persist.

Under this rigged water-management system, there is much suffering. The northern estuaries suffer, Lake Okeechobee itself suffers, the Water Conservation Areas drown, and the southern Everglades and Florida Bay still don’t receive enough clean freshwater.

Who isn’t suffering, you ask? Sugar.

Roughly 400,000 acres of corporate-owned sugarcane farms south of Lake Okeechobee receive near-perfect irrigation and drainage all year long. Adding insult to injury, these fields drain their runoff into taxpayer-funded Stormwater Treatment Areas south of Lake O — contributing to concerning high-water levels in Water Conservation Area 3.

Friends of the Everglades has been fighting this rigged system for years, and the latest Lake O discharges renew our urgency. You can help by adding your name to the Sugar Reform Now petition, which asks Congress to stop boosting the profits of this environmentally damaging industry. We won’t rest until the damaging discharges stop.