Tides have turned on Lake O water releases

CREATED Feb 6, 2014

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FORT MYERS, Fla. - More Lake Okeechobee water releases?  

The idea may bring thoughts of doom and gloom after the rounds of summer releases by the Army Corps of Engineers turned our waters brown and threatened the lives of some wildlife.

Environmentalists this time around are saying now we aren’t getting enough water from the releases and the Caloosahatchee River is reaching a critical point.

They’re asking the Corps to increase water flow to avoid severe consquences.

“It’s feast or famine,” says Jennifer Hecker with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida as she explains the constant battle in keeping the Caloosahatchee River healthy.  “We actually need more water right now.”

The plea is a far cry from 6 months ago when too much water released from Lake Okeechobee threw the fragile ecosystem of the river into a tailspin.

Hecker is joining others in asking the Army Corps of Engineers for more water to lower rising salt levels.

“We actually get cutoff and the river starts to get too salty, which kills off freshwater organisms like tape grass which is the base of the food chain for mantees and other types of aquatic life,” she said.

If the water becomes stagnant, slimy green algae blooms start to threaten the health of water life, humans and the economy.

“I think when the water turns green, slime green, we are seeing a direct economic impact to our tourism, our waterfront real estate values and that's why its so important that we keep a healthy river,” said Hecker.

Environmentalists are looking for a balance and say policies in place with the Army Corp of Engineers make it difficult. 

“We have policies that are cutting us off right now when no other users are being restricted whatsoever and that's really unacceptable,” Hecker said.

The Corps tells FOX 4 that this week they got authorization to increase flow through the Caloosahatchee in preparation of more rain in the coming months. 

They are now developing a course of action, if any, to ease the pain activists say will certainly come to this river if nothing is done.

“It’s absolutely imperative that we get the water regardless of its water quality,” said Hecker.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida is hosting an information session on water management and how to improve the resources next Tuesday, February 12, from 6:30 to 7:30 at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida Nature Center.