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No end in sight to Lake Okeechobee releases

Posted at 12:12 AM, Jun 06, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-06 06:49:05-04

Brackish water creeping up to Sanibel Island. It's the result of fresh water releases from Lake Okeechobee. 

The Army Corps of Engineers says there is no end in sight to the releases, which are a result of heaving rains that raised the lake levels.

"Once you got up in the air you could really see the difference where the brown and the clear water is changing," said Kevin Peters, who went parasailing near Lighthouse Beach Park.

Peters, who's visiting from Nebraska, says you can see where the fresh and saltwater collide.  "You know, coming from Nebraska and coming down on vacation, it is pretty disturbing, this time of year you hate to see that."

It's still too soon to say if algae will appear this year, like it did in 2016, but the discharges have nutrients which help algae grow.

"As we move into the longer summer days, we do see a chance of seeing the algal blooms develop,” said Steve David, ecologist with Everglades Foundation.

Davis says efforts are underway to shift some of the excess water south through the Everglades, rather than sending it through the Caloosahatchee River.

The Southwest Florida Water Management district signed off on a plan in March which will allow for a reservoir to be built to store excess water from Lake Okeechobee.

"Fill that reservoir when there is an abundance of water, and then you draw from that when the Everglades to the south needs it,” said Davis.

But Davis estimates it could be 5 to 7 years before that reservoir is built.

Peters hopes they can come up with a solution sooner.

"Being an out-of-towner, it'd be nice to have an alternative to all this, so you don't have it ruining people's vacations."

Senator Bill Nelson is asking fellow members of congress to fast track the reservoir by having it included in a larger bill that would be voted on later this year.