LEE COUNTY, Fla. - The Army Corps of Engineers announced Friday that it's increasing the flow of water from Lake Okeechobee. Starting at 7 a.m. Saturday, the amount of freshwater flowing through the Caloosahatchee River will increase by more than half a billion gallons.
This comes less than a month after those water releases were cut significantly. The Army Corps says this month's above-average rainfall is the cause. But, to people living and working on Fort Myers Beach, that means more brown water.
"We have much passion when it comes to this island," John Heim said.
As a 28-year beach resident, Heim feels a natural responsibility to stand up for the Gulf. "We are basically saying, this is our identity, we choose to face it."
The water on Fort Myers Beach is clearer than it was two weeks ago. But, he knows that's about to change. Like many on the beach, Heim is frustrated.
"Are we surprised? No," Heim said. "We are willing to work with the Corps but at the same time, we've lost faith in them when it comes to their actual message because it seems to be one where it says this, and the next thing ends up being something completely different with a question mark at the end."
Right now, 1.9 billion gallons of water from Lake O are flowing into the Caloosahatchee each day. Saturday, it will rise to 2.5 billion gallons a day. That's enough water to fill 3,787 Olympic-sized swimming pools. It's lot of water, but to put that in perspective, at the peak of rainy season, the release was nearly double that amount.
"Yeah, it's worrisome because every day that affects my business," said Chuck Bryan, owner of Chuck's Last Stop. "I've walked out there, I've seen the brown water, I've walked out there, I've smelled the brown water."
Bryan said beach businesses are banking on state leaders to find a long-term solution fast because every increase in water released means fewer customers.
"It's not an easy issue to deal with but it's got to be dealt with eventually," Bryan said. "I can't quantify I was hurt. All I can say is yeah, a few less customers this year than last."
As releases continue, is there help for local businesses that have been hurt? We posed the question to Governor Rick Scott's office. They tell us, "Governor Scott sent a letter to Secretary Hershel Vineyard asking the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management District to expedite any for permits from local partners to help support the impacted areas."