FORT MYERS, Fla. — The similarity between 2018 and our current Red Tide outbreak is undeniable. Like we are seeing after Ian, 2018 saw a large-scale red tide bloom which lasted into the summer months after Irma. Captain Daniel Andrews with Captains for Clean Water says what will happen this summer with our current bloom will largely revolve around Lake Okeechobee water releases.
“2018 got so bad because we were getting massive discharges from Lake Okeechobee, and they were dumping tons of nutrient rich water into our local waterways,” said Andrews.
And while we aren’t getting massive Lake O releases right now, the Army Corps of Engineers is slowly releasing water into the Caloosahatchee, as they typically do during dry season to keep the rivers salinity at optimum levels. Andrews says despite the current bloom, it is important to lower the Lake levels ahead of wet season.
“The Lake O releases that hurt us most are the very high-volume discharges that we get in the summertime when we are already getting too much water from our own watershed,” said Andrews.
And while it is hard to predict what this summer rains might have in store; Lake O is still elevated from Hurricanes Ian and Nicole. Andrews says this adds to the risk of large discharges from the Lake.
“It takes a problem and just exacerbates it,” said Andrews. “It can extend the duration of it. So, at this point we’re hoping for dry weather and a late start to rainy season that will help lower Lake Okeechobee.”
Captains for Clean Water is lobbing the state to push Lake O water south through the Everglades as it once did. Andrews says this would greatly reduce the amount nutrients feeding algae in Southwest Florida.
“Nature had it right,” said Andrews. “We messed it up and unfortunately it took us way too long to figure out how bad we messed it up. And all these symptoms that we are making worse like the Red Tide, like the Cyanobacteria, the sea grass, the oyster die offs that are happening as a result of these releases.”
Andrews says the Army Corps of Engineers is making progress in restoring the natural flow south from Lake Okeechobee, but unfortunately it is a slow process. He adds that being in a bloom already right now, there is very little we can do but wait it out.