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Lake Okeechobee sees 240 square miles of blue-green algae

Blue Green Algae Lake O taken 6-15-22
Current water conditions June 17 to 23 2022
Posted at 4:22 PM, Jun 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-27 12:42:59-04

ALVA, Fla. — Lake Okeechobee is seeing about 240 square miles of Blue-Green Algae on the north, west, and south shores. That is about a 30% increase over the last two weeks.

The Army Corps of Engineers began to release water from Lake Okeechobee two days ago, with 78% of water being released right now from Lake Okeechobee being moved into the Caloosahatchee River system.

Also, as seen in these satellite images, a heavy concentration of blue-green algae is on the same western side of the lake, highlighted in orange.

Current Lake O algae bloom 6-23-22

This has the Calusa Waterkeepers, a local conservation group, concerned about what might be next for the Caloosahatchee River.

“If they start releasing water it is possible that could inoculate with some of that algae-laden water in the Lake,” said John Cassani, Calusa Waterkeeper.

And while the Calooshatachee River does see small blooms year-round, Lake Okeechobee releases can worsen those blooms by increasing nutrient loads and flushing current algae down the system.

“It increases the probability of a higher bloom density here, as opposed to less discharge that is occurring,” said Cassani

What worries Cassani is repeating the 2018 super bloom.

“That historic bloom we had that year just shut the economy down,” said Cassani. “Created all kinds of public health ramifications. We don’t want to see that again this year.”

That said, Cassani says in 20-18, the Army Corp started to release water at a higher rate earlier in the year compared to now. Which is a lower rate later starting almost a month later than 2018

“We are hoping that the basin runoff combined with the lake discharge won’t magnify the effect and we won’t see that kind of bloom, but how much it rains, how much they are letting out of the lake, so we will just have to wait and see,” said Cassani

While the concern is there, Cassani believes the Army Corps is doing a better job now compared to 2018.

“So they are trying to enable the lake to get lower in the dry season, and more freeboard during the rest of year,” said Cassani. “That kind of what they did this year. So that added operational flexibility, which is working to some degree. We are seeing a bit of a better situation because of that added flexibility.”

Right now, the Army Corp is releasing water at about 400 cubic feet per second, which the Calusa Waterkeepers tell is likely a low enough rate to dilute out. But if that rate reaches closer to 1000 cubic feet per second that water full of blue-green algae will be flushed all the way down the Calooshatachee, over few day period. Until then we are in a holding pattern depending on how much rainfall we get and how much water will get released.