The US Army Corps of Engineers will reduce flows from Lake Okeechobee into southwest Florida starting this weekend. It’s encouraging news to some people as massive algal blooms likely sparked by Lake Okeechobee continue to plague Florida’s treasure coast.
The problem has gotten so bad Governor Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency in four Florida counties, including Lee County.
There are also calls to close off the Herbert Hoover Dike until there is no longer a cause for concern.
As these concerns over water quality continue to spread in Southwest Floridam, Four In Your Corner spent the day touring our local waterways with more on conditions ahead of the holiday weekend.
The Florida Department of Health takes care of all water testing for our beaches. The latest testing was done on June 27th with results revealing all Lee County beaches are in “good” condition.
If you ask Captain Brett Cox with the Southwest Florida Clean Water Movement, he’ll tell you differently. ”If you can’t see the difference going on in our beaches then you’re not looking,” Cox said.
Captain Cox took Four In Your Corner first to an area he coins “the line of death.” He describes “the line of death” as the clear separation between beach water and water being pushed from Lake Okeechobee.
”You can’t mix fresh water with salt water like this,” Cox said. “It has to be a slow procedure and it has to be a very low amount.”
The water releases have been anything but slow. He says he ranks Fort Myers Beach the worst of all Lee County beaches. ”If you stick your hand in you couldn’t see down 3 inches right now. We should be able to see clear water.”
Our next stop was Sanibel. Cox quickly points out murky greenish brown water, which he says has made it difficult for wildlife. “We’re in 3.2 foot of water and we can barely see the bottom. There’s a ton of dead sea grass. That should not be there,” he said.
A few months ago, Captain Cox became a member of a Facebook page used by community members called Southwest Florida Clean Water Movement. The page is used by members to post pictures, videos, and updates about local waters.
He says membership has grown quickly in the past few months. “I just added about twenty-five hundred people just last week.” The group currently has close to sixteen thousand members.
Our last stop with Captain Cox was by the Punta Rassa boat launch; an area he calls “Ground Zero.”
“This is going to be the dirtiest section of it other than the river itself,” he said. “My biggest concerns are bacteria levels; People getting sick and people getting infected.”
Four In Your Corner reached out to the Sanibel Director of Natural Resources. The spokesperson tells us the dark and murky water is causing concerns. “We are seeing some dead sea grass washing up on our beaches, likely a result of salinity shock,” James Evans said.
According to the Florida Department of health all beaches in Lee county are in good standing. Evans tells Four In Your Corner it’s important to use your judgment when visiting our beaches.
“All of our beaches are swim at your own risk,” he said. “While the bacteria levels which are an indicator of human health are good right now, if you have very dark water, use your best judgment.”
You can check updates on the beach water quality by clicking here.