Lake Okeechobee water heads down the Caloosahatchee, some call for reduction

Reporter: Stephanie Byrne
Published: Updated:
Water near the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River on October, 22, 2020, one week after water releases began from Lake Okeechobee. (Credit: WINK News)

Last week, water discharges from Lake Okeechobee started making their way down the Caloosahatchee, and already, there are calls from groups to reduce the amount of water coming to Southwest Florida.

Right now the lake’s water level is 16.28 feet, as of Thursday afternoon. The goal of releases underway is to keep the lake from getting higher, not to lower the level.

On Thursday we got an exclusive look at the impact of those releases off the Sanibel coast.
You could see the water is brown in color, but the releases are not the only reason for this.

James Evans is the director of environmental policy, with the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation

He says, “We’re out here with the South Florida Water Management District looking at the conditions within San Carlos Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.”

The conservation foundation hosted the district to check out water conditions at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee now that we’re a week out from Lake Okeechobee releases.

“We’re out here every day,” said SCCF Marine Lab Director Eric Milbrandt. “We see it different times a year and it’s important for the agencies is to understand our perspective on the west coast.”

The water Thursday? A brown root beer color.

Milbrandt explained how the color comes from plants and leaves, creating a tea-like water. “It’s the tannins that leach out of the plant material and the soils in the watershed that really add the tannins and the dissolved organic matter in the water.” A result of both Lake O releases and our own local runoff from all the rain.

Division director for ecosystem restoration and capital projects with SFWMD, Jennifer Reynolds says, “That’s a lot of water that’s coming out here and the structures have been optimized this year in order to release the smallest amount of discharges to the estuaries and yet here we are in October still seeing these high-volume releases.”

It highlights the need to protect the coast and push forward with improvement projects underway.

The C-43 West Basin Reservoir will help reduce discharges both from Lake Okeechobee and local runoff to the estuary.

It’s expected to be complete in 2023.

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