Dramatic images show Lake Okeechobee releases meeting Gulf near Sanibel

Reporter: Stephanie Byrne
Published: Updated:

There are new concerns for Southwest Florida water quality. New aerial images show the Lake Okeechobee water discharges reaching the Gulf of Mexico near Sanibel Island.

You can see the stark contrast where the releases of freshwater meet the saltwater from the Gulf.

“People are really interested in this issue. They’re really paying attention to it,” explains John Cassani, Calusa Waterkeeper.

Thanks to pilot Ralph Arwood with Lighthawk Conservation Flying. His eyes in the sky help keep tabs on what is happening when the lake releases coming downstream are mixing with local runoff.

Arwood says, “It does give you a totally different perspective of what’s going on down there.”

“Almost all the water that’s coming out of the mouth of the Caloosahatchee now is lake discharge water,” Cassani added.

You can see where the dark and light-colored water meets near the Sanibel lighthouse.

Arwood is concerned. “I think anybody who was here two years ago knows how miserable that can be, so we really need to get it under control and stop the pollution from coming out of Lake Okeechobee and down to the Gulf.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who manage lake levels, has not made any final decisions on when discharges from the lake will end.

“It’s more of a duration factor, you know,” Cassani added. “The ecosystem can tolerate it for maybe a week or so without huge impacts, but now we’re going on a couple weeks… so the longer it goes on, the more devastating it can be.”

The concern is what that water may leave behind.

The Corps of Engineers said Friday it hopes to stop or reduce releases this week, but they also have to keep an eye on Hurricane Eta.

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