Engineers meeting to discuss Lake O discharges as algae toxins build

Writer: Joey Pellegrino
A fish dead from algal toxins. Credit: WINK News

The Army Corps of Engineers is meeting at 11:30 a.m. Friday to discuss how many new discharges of water will be released from Lake Okeechobee into our area, and for how long.

This meeting comes as high levels of toxins are once again in our water. The Florida Department of Health says this is especially dangerous for pets and children, and can cause stomach or liver problems if you accidentally swallow the water. Because of that, we have algae health alerts up and down the river, from the Franklin Lock to the Alva and Davis boat ramps.

Experts worry we’re on a 2018 blue-green algae trajectory, faster and sooner. The Calusa Waterkeeper takes toxin samples from the water, and one sample showed the water around a boat ramp has a reading of above 700. The Environmental Protection Agency says it should be at eight.

When we were plagued with the blue-green algae blooms all over Southwest Florida in 2018, those blooms were releasing toxins, and scientists say that’s why we saw intense amounts of red tide all over our beaches. And not only did it ruin our time at the beach, it ruined the economies of our tourist destinations.

James Evans, the environmental policy director for the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation, says the islands lost more than $47 million from July to October that year. And just on Sanibel, more than 850,000 pounds of dead marine life were picked up from the beaches.

Several people feel helpless in the face of these effects on the water.

“There’s not much we can do,” said Capt. Tom Carter with Sea Tow Fort Myers. “I guess there’s things that we can all do, you know, as this society, as far as fertilization and things like that goes, to help stop feeding the algae. The algae has been around for, like, 2.4 billion years.”

Some people using the boat ramp on Thursday said they could see the green specks on their boat ride, and now have their fingers crossed that it doesn’t get worse.

Remember: If you have respiratory problems, like asthma, emphysema or bronchitis, you should avoid red tide areas.

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