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Water releases from Lake Okeechobee to begin next week

A lot of water from Lake Okeechobee is coming our way. The Army Corps of Engineers said Friday they’ll start releasing water from the lake in a matter of days.

The water level right now in Lake O is over 16 feet.

Col. Andrew Kelly with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said releases from the lake will resume on Tuesday or Wednesday and will head both east and west down the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers.

He will give more precise details just before the releases begin.

The corps will likely release 4,000 cubic feet per second (CFS) to the west and 1,800 to the east. That’s enough water to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool every 22 seconds.

The big concern is the rate that the lake level is rising – about a foot-and-a-half a month, and they want to slow it down. Kelly said the planned release rate will take the lake’s level down about half a foot.

The hope is to stop the releases within three to four weeks, but it will depend on the weather and if we get another storm.

The completion of the Herbert Hoover Dike repairs is still a couple of years out, which makes balancing the lake’s water level even more delicate.

Lake O requires a fragile balance of making sure the water doesn’t get too high or too low, and the Herbert Hoover Dike is a key player in that management.

“They’re kind of caught between a rock and a hard place right now and so, we just want to give them credit for, you know, putting off the high discharges as long as they could,” said John Cassani, Calusa Waterkeeper.

Cassani fears all that water could harm our ecosystem if the releases last longer than planned.

“We just don’t know if we’re going to get an algae bloom in the river as a result of the discharges; we just don’t know, we just have to wait and see.”

The Army Corps likes to push water south into the Everglades, but Cassani said the water storage and treatment areas there are full because of agricultural runoff.

In Cape Coral, life on the water is what got Peter Formica to move here 10 years ago. “It is beautiful!” he said, but he has come to appreciate that beautiful is also fragile.

He’ll never forget 2018.

“It was a thick gel that was on top of the water, blue-green in color and you could take the coconut, I threw a coconut out there and it didn’t break through the stuff,” he said.

That stuff – thick blue-green algae – caused in part by the constant release of water from Lake O. Formica said the look and smell stick with you.

“We’re going to need masks for the smell of the blue-green algae because it does smell, it is terrible.”

So he isn’t exactly thrilled that the corps is sending more water his way.

Cassani fears the releases could harm animals and plants in the water.

“It’s not just a public health and safety issue, it’s an ecosystem impact issue,” Cassani said.

Formica also worries about the impact on people. “It’s the health conditions affecting the older people, respiratory; I know it causes problems when you get a healthy horse like me coughing and sneezing.”

While there’s always algae in the lake, Cassani said there’s no significant algae bloom. That’s the good news, but who knows what will happen if we get releases our way for a month, on top of a lot of rain and runoff.

Writer:Jackie Winchester
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