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Communities along Caloosahatchee prepare for Lake O water releases

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Communities along the Caloosahatchee River are preparing for water releases from Lake Okeechobee this week, and many are wondering what effect it will have on our river, canals and beaches.

For one fisherman, it isn’t algae he’s most concerned about, it’s the seagrass and oysters.

“It’s just overall destruction of the resource we have out here,” said Capt. Daniel Andrews, co-founder and executive director of Captains for Clean Water.

Andrews keeps his eyes on Pine Island Sound for more reasons than one.

“Once you’re out here every day, you kind of look at it a little differently,” he said.

“We’re seeing a lot of activity, a lot of life.”

An avid fisherman and clean water advocate, Andrews knows what’s at stake in the face of Lake O releases.

“To me, the concern right now is less about the algae and more about the amount of destruction that these releases are going to do to our seagrass beds and our oyster beds that have already been stressed out from our local basin runoff.”

Seagrass and oyster beds are the foundation of the estuary.

“One of the biggest things I noticed was just the amount of seagrass that we’re losing in the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River and the lower part of Pine Island Sound from this bad water quality, and that’s created a lot more fishing pressure in the areas where it’s still good.”

Now, more pressure may come from upstream.

“How Lake Okeechobee is managed has a huge say in what the health of our water is down here. If we can start with that lower lake level, we don’t have to worry about the discharges as much. They can still happen, but it just provides a little bit more protection there,” Andrews said.

While lake releases are expected soon, we’ll have to wait and see what the impact will be.

The Army Corps of Engineers is expected to begin releasing water in the next few days and they’ll continue until rainy season lets up.

“I would say right now, we’re at a point where the estuary is stressed out about as much as I would want to see it stressed out,” Andrews said.

It’s stressed from the freshwater runoff we’ve had from all the rain lately.

Andrews took WINK News out on the water near Sanibel on Monday.

“We’re out here today taking a look at the estuary before we get the discharges from Lake Okeechobee.”

The line where water from the bay meets the Gulf is visible.

“What we’re seeing is a lot of the bait is being pushed just outside of these plumes of water, bay water, right now. You see a lot more activity where you can find good, clean water, a lot more life there,” Andrews explained.

With releases from Lake O beginning later in the year, Andrews feels we may not see a harmful algal bloom as bad as the one in 2018. Still, there are concerns.

“You’ve already had all of this water that’s been shading out the grass for about a month now. You’re about to extend that period and that’s something that’s very unnatural that the estuary can’t, it can’t really fight that.”