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

Take Action

A Rare Opportunity

The Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) took public comment regarding planned revisions for the Lake Okeechobee System Operations Manual. The Center for Biological Diversity joined forces with Calusa Waterkeeper, Sierra Club, Bullsugar and Save the Manatee Club to submit scoping comments. The following talking points were included in the comments provided to the ACOE:

  • The Corps must more broadly define the “proposed action” to include managing the lake regardless of the status of the infrastructure projects to ensure the “proposed action” (or more technically, the selected alternative) is implemented immediately.
  • The Corps must compress its proposed 44 month NEPA process to 18 months to implement solutions immediately.
  • The Corps must consider the effect of blue-green algae on the Lake and the estuaries, and the plants, animals and humans living near them.
  • The Corps must consider the effect of blue-green algae and nutrient loading on the Lake and the estuaries, including the direct and cumulative effects on red tide, and the effects of red tide on wildlife and humans.
  • The Corps must consider the impacts of managing the Lake on endangered and threatened species in the Lake, the rivers, the estuaries, and nearshore.
  • The Corps must consider alternatives that include the Corps using all of its authority and discretion, including using land south of the Lake for additional water storage.
Read Comments Now (pdf)

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Priority Issues

Marina 1 alt

Harmful Algal Blooms

Cyanobacteria & Red Tide

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


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.

Cassani at Billy's Creek

Bacteria Monitoring

Fecal Indicator Bacteria

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