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WATER WATCH: Planned water releases from Lake Okeechobee sparks environmental concerns

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers aims to prevent flooding, but the impact on water quality and wildlife remains a concern
Posted at 10:49 PM, Feb 16, 2024

MOOREHAVEN, Fla. — Millions of gallons of water is about to come out of a dam in Moorehaven and it’s going to head downstream to where many people live. So, Fox 4 set out to figure out what’s in it to see if it could affect the water near you.

As of Friday, the water level at Lake Okeechobee was more than 16 feet which is too high for this time of year. With rainy season still a few months away, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wants to release some water now so the lake doesn’t flood. But, the United Waterfowlers of Florida’s president, Newton Cook, says he’s concerned what the high water levels have done to the water quality.

“Anything above 15 feet kills the submerged aquatic vegetation that is desperately needed to clean the phosphorous and nitrogen. That means when the water does leave the lake - east, west, or south - it’s dirty,” Cook explained.

Cook says higher phosphorous and nitrogen levels in the water can cause algae blooms and red tide downstream, especially when temperatures rise in the summer. Starting Saturday, the corps say they’re going to release a total of 131 billion gallons of water from Lake Okeechobee, potentially through June, to lower the level by around two feet.

“The intent behind the pending releases is to move as much water as possible out of Lake Okeechobee before the beginning of oyster spawning, before the start of blue-green algal blooms on the lake, and before the start of the wet season,” said Colonel James Booth, the Commander of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District.