Sanibel officials propose stop to Lake O water releases

Sanibel officials are taking a stand to stop the murky brown water of Lake Okeechobee from contaminating their crystal clear shores.

Officials say it’s hurting tourism and marine life, and visitors agree.

Sanibel native Hunter Blackburn says there’s something different about SWFL beaches lately.

“Very dark brown, murky. You can’t see your feet when you walk in it,” Blackburn said. “I grew up on Sanibel so I loved seeing the clear blue water and I would say within a matter of four to five days I noticed it going brown.”

Officials say the discharge from Lake Okeechobee is mixing with the storm water runoff producing dark-colored water that is extending to local beaches.

“The difference in a week or two from aqua color to that pee brown is completely different,” said Brandon Shaw.

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Now the mayor of Sanibel is requesting to immediately stop the releases until levels drop, and send that water south instead.

“Everybody has to have shared diversity right now, so you let water go from the lake, you also send it south so we all can drain the lake quicker,” said Mayor Kevin Ruane.

Ruane says that during dry season, they asked for more water in order to get Lake O levels down. But instead, the Marine Corps held onto it.

“They were really concerned about us going dry, and now we’re saturated and estuaries getting damaged,” Ruane said.

Right now, the brown water is potentially harming estuaries and wildlife, and beach visitors are worried it’s also turning away tourists.

“I think a lot of people come here for the water and I don’t think a lot of people are going to want to go in if that’s that color,” Blackburn said.

The mayor also called out “inequality” between the coasts of Florida. Significantly more water from Lake O is being released to the Caloosahatchee, compared to a much lower amount on the east coast.

WINK News reporter Janae Muchmore was live on the Sanibel Causeway Friday morning to review Sanibel’s plan-of-action. Watch the segment below.

Reporter:Janae Muchmore
Kelsey Kushner
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