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Lake Okeechobee Discharges

Franklin Locks

Harmful Discharges

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.

Franklin Lock spillway

Useful Links

Lake Okeechobee Status

Lake O Satellite

There are a number of tools we use to gather information about the current status of harmful algal blooms on the Lake, as well as the flows being overseen by water managers. Here are a few of the best:

 

Related News Stories

Lake Okeechobee

Is the Caloosahatchee Heading for an Algae Bloom?

A number of things point to a looming explosion of the one-celled organisms commonly called blue-green algae, many species of which occur naturally in Southwest Florida fresh water. Though they’re critical to natural systems, when they multiply, they can be trouble.

Large Algae Bloom Spotted on Florida’s Lake Okeechobee

According to the Calusa Waterkeeper, NOAA estimated that algae now covers over 35 percent of the 730 square mile lake. Health officials advise residents and visitors to exercise caution in and around the lake until further notice.

Lake Okeechobee Releases to the Caloosahatchee Begin

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said they will begin releasing Lake Okeechobee discharges into the Caloosahatchee River. This raises concerns in Southwest Florida because the area is still trying to dry out after Hurricane Ian.

Lake Okeechobee sees 240 Square Miles of Blue-Green Algae

Lake Okeechobee is seeing about 240 square miles of Blue-Green Algae on the north, west, and south shores. That is about a 30% increase over the last two weeks. The Army Corps of Engineers began to release water from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee system.

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Priority Issues

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Harmful Algal Blooms

Cyanobacteria & Red Tide

Cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) and Karenia brevis (red tide) have been making major impacts on Southwest Florida.

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Lake Okeechobee Discharges

Revise System Operating Manual

The Caloosahatchee River often suffers from too much freshwater in the wet season, and not enough freshwater in the dry season.

Chiquita Lock

Cape Coral Spreader Canals

Nutrient & Sediment Loading

The City of Cape Coral is working to remove large storm-water barriers to make recreational boating more convenient.

Bacteria Monitoring

Fecal Indicator Bacteria

Calusa Waterkeeper has been at the forefront of monitoring this Fort Myers tributary for fecal bacteria indicators.