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Water near Sanibel turns brown due to runoff from Lake Okeechobee

Posted at 7:48 PM, Oct 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-27 19:48:42-04

SANIBEL — The water in the Caloosahatchee River is turning brown.

The color is coming from water releases from Lake Okeechobee, but it’s got people concerned about the effect on the environment in southwest Florida. People we met on the Sanibel Causeway weren’t happy when they saw the color of the water.

“When you start coming over the bridge over Sanibel, you look down and you just kind of say oh crap, today’s going to be that day," said Rick Tripple, who fishes on the Causeway multiple times a week.

“When there’s bad water and there’s things happening like this, it affects the fishing, it affects the wildlife, and we don’t want another red tide again too," said Tripple.

Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane said, he understands those concerns, but rising water levels in Lake Okeechobee could endanger homes if they get too high.

“The options that were available stink. They really do. My choices are to not care about someone’s wellbeing, or have dark water for a couple, three, or four weeks," said Ruane.

But some people say turning the water brown from runoff is not a solution.

“The Gulf Coast is not their toilet," said Molly Biscan, an environmental activist who lives in Sarasota, and reached out to us about the runoff.

Biscan said she started advocating for changes after the Red Tide in 2018.

“We had a total eco-disaster from the releases. Manatees, dolphins, any marine life you can think of died when they swam through the toxic cyanobacteria," said Biscan.

Ruane said, he lived through that disaster too, but he doesn’t think this water will do the same thing.

“Red Tide is fueled by nutrients. The good news is that the releases that have taken place are not high-end nutrient loads," said Ruane.

So the brown water may end up just being an inconvenience, something people in southwest Florida unfortunately are used to.

“It’s just part of living in Florida right now. Until they get a cure for this, a fix for this, we have to just deal with it," said Tripple.

Ruane said he believes the releases should end within the next week or two, and after that, he says the water should quickly return to it’s normal blue color.