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Fresh water releases from Lake Okeechobee help salinity levels in estuary

Posted: 6:50 PM, Nov 13, 2019
Updated: 2019-11-13 18:50:27-05

LEE COUNTY, Fla. -- Releasing water from Lake Okeechobee is a hot topic among clean water activists. Many fear it sends harmful algae our way. Right now, the Army Corps of Engineers is discharging water from the lake into the Caloosahatchee River.

Where the Calooshatchee River meets the Gulf of Mexico is our estuary and too much salt water or fresh water impacts marine life.

“During dry season if there’s not any fresh water coming down the water will get too salty especially near Franklin Lock,” said Dr. Mike Parsons, Professor of Marine Science, FGCU’s Water School.

And an abundance of salinity can kill off tape grass which is both food and habitat for fish, crab, shrimp among other species.

“So we need that habitat and a little bit of flow coming down during dry season to keep those salinities low during dry season,” said Parsons.

Right now Lake Okeechobee is at 13 feet. The army corps of engineers has to make sure they maintain lake levels between 10 to 16 feet. Parsons explains if the lake is too high during wet season, there’s a human risk due to potential flooding.

“And they don’t want it too low during the dry season because they want enough water for various allotments like agriculture and drinking water,” said Dr. Mike Parsons, Professor of Marine Science, Florida Gulf Coast University's Water School.

A recent NOAA satellite image of the lake shows an algal bloom covers 50 square miles of the 730 square mile lake. In comparison, a satellite image from November 10th of 2018 shows 220 square feet or 40% of the lake was covered in algae.

The Department of Environmental Protection is reporting harmful algal bloom potential is low.

“Overall it’s quiet, it’s still lurking, the cyanobacteria, the blue green algae, but as the temperatures get cooler we don’t expect them to bloom,” said Parsons.

In comparison, a satellite image from November 10th of 2018 shows 220 square feet or 40% of the lake was covered in algae. The Army Corps says the steady releases will continue through Friday.