Lake Okeechobee releases to the Caloosahatchee to begin this weekend

Reporter: Gail Levy
Lake O releases toward the Caloosahatchee will begin on Saturday. (CREDIT: SFWMD)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said they will begin releasing Lake Okeechobee discharges into the Caloosahatchee River.

This raises concerns in Southwest Florida because the area is still trying to dry out after Hurricane Ian.

And there are also concerns because of the possibility of harmful algal blooms.

The Army Corps of Engineers announced they would begin discharging 1,200 cubic feet of water per second.

That would fill up about three concrete mixer trucks per second.

Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani said he is not worried about the amount of water, he is worried about what’s in it.

“The timing for lake water coming into the Caloosahatchee, and ultimately the coastal areas, is not good right now,” Cassani said. “It’s a bad time.”

The discharges will begin on Saturday. It will be released from the Franklin Lock and continue to shoot out west toward the Gulf.

That’s where Cassani said finding the good in this release gets murky.

“It looks like red tide may be moving in our area soon. And additional nutrient loading from the lake won’t help that situation,” Cassani said.

Nutrients from fertilizer runoff could contribute to blooms.

But the Corps said there are no blooms in the Lake.

“Satellite view imagery says there’s no bloom activity and no visible areas of visible bloom in any of the years of the estuaries in just a few limited areas on the north side of Lake Okeechobee,” said Lt. Col. Todd F. Polk, with Jacksonville District of the Army Corps of Engineers.

Lake O rose more than 2.5 feet since Hurricane Ian.

Much of that water comes down from the Kissimmee chain of lakes.

So why is the water coming west instead of east?

“It’s different estuaries right, the Caloosahatchee estuaries is much larger, and can absorb more water. In fact, it does require a bit more water.”

While all the water is coming toward Southwest Florida, Cassani said it’s time for it to go south.

“Agriculture, south of the lake, needs to share in the adversity of these lake releases. And that hasn’t really happened in the past to any great extent. So what happens there is you have a special private interest getting favored status over the public interest,” Cassani said.

The Corps said they don’t know when the releases will stop but as we get into the dry season and see where the lake will peak, that will help them make the decision to stop.

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