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Water concerns grow on Fort Myers Beach, around Lake O

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FORT MYERS, Fla. Brown, murky water is back on Fort Myers Beach.

“It’s a lot dirtier than it normally is,” frequent visitor Joanne Nene said. “It’s a lot browner. It’s usually a lot clearer any other year.”

The discoloration comes as the water level in Lake Okeechobee reached 17.16 feet, its highest since 2004. The Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the lake and the aging Hoover Dike around it, is releasing some 4.7 billion gallons of lake water a day into the Caloosahatchee River, which ends at the beach.

MORE: Lake O water historically high; so is bacteria level

The releases have long been blamed for murky water and, at times, toxic algae blooms. But too much water in the lake puts strain on the dike, parts of which date to the 1930s.

Concern over the dike brought Gov. Rick Scott to Clewiston on Monday to stump for more federal funding to speed repair.

“It’s a safety concern,” Scott said. “It’s a well-being concern, so we have to do everything we can to continue to make sure we take care of this dike.”

Scott has made dike repair a central part of his Everglades Restoration pitches. He spoke about dike repair two weeks ago with President Donald Trump, a close political ally.

MORE: Gov. Scott ceremoniously signs Lake O reservoir bill

The governor is hopeful the dike repair project can get done by 2022, a long way off for worried Clewiston residents who attended his rally Monday.

“If this dike was to break, our town would be underwater, so we’d be without a place to live,” said Landon Sutton, one of several who showed up holding signs urging repair.

Still, the dike is in no immediate danger, Corps Col. Jason Kirk said.

The Corps is tasked with balancing the needs of the dike with the needs of people downriver clamoring for clean water.

“Our concerns are health, No. 1,” said John Heim, head of the Southwest Florida Clean Water Movement organization.

Heim called it “the most extreme version of dirty water that I have witnessed personally in the 33 years I’ve lived here” and said his group plans to start protesting along the Matanzas Pass Bridge.

An end to the water fight remains elusive.

“What’s the alternative?” Fort Myers Beach resident Timothy Taschler said. “What do you do? How do we stop this from coming in here?”