U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began to discharge water from Lake Okeechobee this week into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie River estuaries.
Standard procedure for the corps is to initiate water releases when the lake level gets above 15 ½ feet, give or take depending on the weather.
Among concerns of environmentalists, polluted water could set off toxic summer algae blooms. Breakdown of algae can produce rashes, flu-like illnesses and lung infections in people who encounter the water.
This recent decision, a result of the wetter-than-expected season, spurred an urgent response from Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg.
Although Eikenberg sees this development as just the latest in a long series of potential disasters, the warning email calls for immediate action this year to offset polluted outflows.
“Here we go again,” he writes.
The new threat echoes the crisis of 2013, when massive downpours in the spring and summer ushered in one of the most significant dangers the aging 143-mile Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee, now over 80 years old. The corps released water as quickly as possible to protect the fragile dike, which resulted in additional water disrupting the surrounding ecosystem and reducing natural salinity.
For decades, environmental groups such as the Everglades Foundation have joined the battle to adjust the flow into the Everglades. A monumental (and expensive) feat at best, but one with far-reaching significance for South Florida waterways, agriculture and tourism.
With a commitment to working with Scott, the Legislature and the South Florida Water Management District, Eikenberg urges all parties to “quickly find a solution for more storage in the Everglades Agricultural Area.
“The release of more polluted water from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie River estuaries is proof that we need additional water storage south of the lake to alleviate these discharges,” he adds.
Progress can be possible, especially if Florida leaders act swiftly and (as the saying goes), good Lord willing and the creek – in this case “Lake O” — don’t rise.