Published: Jun 23, 2011 9:45 PM EDT
Updated: Jun 23, 2011 9:40 PM EDT

LEE COUNTY, Fla.- Toxic algae growth is plaguing Southwest Florida's scenic Caloosahatchee River, and the only fix is fresh water from Lake Okeechobee.

But getting that water released could turn into a bitter battle with South Florida Water Management.

"We're not being treated right by the water managers. And the result is a very sick and polluted river," Lee County Commissioner Frank Mann said Thursday.

The Caloosahatchee is in it's worst shape in years. Experts say the dilemma isn't just because of the drought.

"The problem is as much man-made if not more than natural. It is a by-product of losing our head water lakes, and the wetlands that used to feed this river historically. Now, it depends on Lake Okeechobee as it's source and it's being cut off entirely from that source," Jennifer Hecker of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida said.

The river depends on Lake Okeechobee's fresh water flow to flush out stagnant bacteria and nutrients. Lee County leaders say Southwest Florida's getting cheated out of it's fair share of that fresh water, citing the river conditions as proof.

"It's as foul as I've ever seen it with pollution. The water's got layers of thick blue green algae on it, almost an inch thick," Mann said.

Now, they're calling on South Florida Water Management to immediately release water from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee, in order to avoid devastating economic effects to Southwest Florida's coastal tourism.

"I think they still have water in that lake that they can release. They have been releasing it to other places. I'm saying before one more drop gets released anywhere, they need to turn the water loose on the Caloosahatchee River and flush that. It's like a huge cesspool right now that needs to be flushed," Mann said.

Local leaders are calling for an emergency release of Lake Okeechobee's water into the Caloosahatchee. They say if their request is ignored, they may purse possible ligitigation against the district.