Dry season causing low levels in Lake O

Posted at 8:03 PM, Mar 15, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-15 20:03:26-04

With water levels in Lake Okeechobee almost two and a half feet lower than they were this time in 2016, discharges from the lake aren't enough to meet minimal flow in the Caloosahatchee, according to one water expert.

John Cassani, of the Waterkeeper Alliance, said the lack of discharges from the Army Corps of Engineers at Lake O's Hoover Dike is resulting in a rise in the river's salinity from the Gulf of Mexico.

"So the freshwater grasses that were there 15, 16, 17 years ago are now gone, and have not recovered since," Cassani said.

It's a reversal of the problem of too much discharge from Okeechobee during the rainy summer months. Clean water activist John Heim said that the brown, murky water sent down the Caloosahatchee during the water releases should not only be sent through the Everglades, but should be treated first.

"You have to filtrate this water and clean it first, and recreate the River of Grass...and send the water all the way down to Florida Bay," Heim said.

Heim said that he has seen first-hand the impact of too much Lake O discharge in his hometown of Fort Myers Beach, which he believes negatively affected tourism last year. 

"Sure, the lake is low now, but this is an ongoing problem," Heim said. "The reality is, it's going to happen again."

Cassani said that the tug-of-war between the dry and wet seasons' impact on water quality, on the Gulf beaches and the Caloosahatchee, is a double-edged sword.

"We're damaged in the wet season, and we're frequently damaged in the dry season," Cassano said. 

The Director of Natural Resources said he hopes this summer's discharges from Lake O won't be as high as they were last year, so the beach communities won't have to deal with brown runoff again.