Lake Okeechobee is often referred to as the “liquid heart” of Florida. Unfortunately, over the years, the Lake has become heavily polluted by run-off from agriculture and development in Central & South Florida.
As it was designed in 1947 to avoid flooding south of the lake, the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers are the two “safety valves” of the system during high water events. Water from Lake Okeechobee is now routinely discharged to these rivers and sent to tide in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. This practice is also starving Florida Bay of the freshwater it naturally received through the historic Everglades.
In the wet season, massive amounts of nutrient polluted water is now being sent to the Caloosahatchee River. This nutrient rich water is exacerbating harmful algal blooms of increasing scope and frequency.
The federal Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for the Lake’s operation. The Corps’ operational manuals consider public safety and many other objectives set forth by the state’s South Florida Water Management District.
Minimum Flows & Levels
To complicate matters for the Caloosahatchee, our brackish water estuary thrives with a certain amount of freshwater sustaining Vallisneria tape grass near Fort Myers. When dry season rainfall is not enough to suppress salinity levels, tape grass die-offs occur.
As a result of these two seasonal swings, and water mismanagement by government agencies, the Caloosahatchee often suffers from too much freshwater in the wet season, and not enough freshwater in the dry season.
Related News Stories
Four South Florida environmental nonprofits sent Gov. Ron DeSantis a letter Wednesday urging him to veto a controversial Lake Okeechobee water supply bill. The governor can sign or veto the bill, but if he does nothing, it becomes law on July 1.
Florida Senate bill 2508 surfaced out of nowhere on Friday, February 4th. The bill was fast-tracked skipping the usual committee stops and following another unexpected announcement by the South Florida Water Management District, requesting control of an additional 1.5 feet of Lake Okeechobee above the Water Shortage Band as part of LOSOM.
It has taken us three long years and countless meetings and calls to action to get closer to an attempted balanced approach to managing Lake Okeechobee water levels and discharges, and it is by most accounts, an equitable plan for most interests.
Available water sampling data proves – for the first time – that Florida’s flagship program to reduce water pollution isn’t working. And that pollution is contaminating waterways and sparking toxic algal blooms in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers.
Dozens of scientists, environmental groups, elected officials and agency heads met to talk about recent changes to a still-controversial plan to govern Lake Okeechobee releases. Paul Gray, Audubon Florida’s director of science, offered a cautionary tale about becoming strictly wedded to policies that don’t necessarily make ecological sense.
A proposed Lake Okeechobee management plan is still drawing concerns from state water managers and the public as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues to finalize what’s called the Lake Okeechobee System Operation Manual, or LOSOM.
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