Taking care of and protecting Lake Okeechobee is very personal to me. Growing up in Clewiston, Florida, I spent a lot of time on Lake Okeechobee. My father, Roland Martin, is an angler and it’s pretty safe to say I picked up his love of the sport. I’ve spent most of my life doing what I love on this lake.
When I was 12-years-old, I caught a 10 lb. bass. Yes, 10 lbs.! So, you can imagine how that moment influenced my future. Since then, I have won eight FLW Tour Events and I host a national television show called the Scott Martin Challenge. The ties I have to this lake run deep.
Ramon Iglesias and I co-founded Anglers for Lake Okeechobee (AFLO) because we saw a desperate need to protect the health and restoration of Lake Okeechobee. Named by the Seminole Indian tribe, Okeechobee means big water. For decades, politicians, community activists, environmentalists and anglers have been at odds on how to protect these 730-square miles of water, the largest freshwater lake in the state. Studies have proven 95 percent of water flowing into the lake comes from the north, specifically the Kissimmee River. How to manage the overflow, slow the flow, store the water and prevent discharges impacting coastal communities has been at the heart of the debate.
In recent years, many milestones have been met including Gov. Ron DeSantis approving $50 million dollars for northern storage projects that benefit Florida’s liquid heart. However, my organization is especially proud of the strides made that take these funds and turn them into tangible, science-based solutions.
A few weeks ago, the South Florida Water Management District, along with a number of state leaders, announced the start of the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Project in Glades County. AFLO’s co-founder, Ramon Iglesias, and executive director Suzanne Martin and I had the pleasure of visiting the very first ASR well site north of the lake.
This project is significant because it will store water north of Lake Okeechobee. It includes above-ground storage, underground storage through the use of aquifer storage and recovery wells, as well as, the restoration of our state’s treasured wetlands. The hope is it will improve lake levels and water supply, while also preserving the precious submerged vegetation that benefits us and the lake’s wildlife.
This project was approved through Senate Bill 2516 in the most recent legislative session. Key state officials including Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Tribly, and Sen. Ben Albritton, R-Punta Gorda, who we had the opportunity to speak with at the event. SFWMD members Drew Bartlett, Jennifer Reynolds and Ben Butler and local representatives led a great discussion about the future of the lake.
This is what we’ve all been working for. This is a huge win for the community, but most importantly for the future of this big, beautiful body of water. It is always incredibly moving to see something we have fought for come to life. But it is even more exciting knowing that it will help in solving the water issues facing our state. It makes me proud to know AFLO played a small role in protecting this lake that I love. To know it will be restored for my children and generations to come makes all of it worth the effort.
On behalf of everyone at AFLO, thank you to each and every person involved in making this happen. We look forward to seeing the positive results while continuing to fight for the issues that are still present!
Scott Martin is a professional angler, the host of “the Scott Martin Challenge” and co-founder of Anglers for Lake Okeechobee.
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