Blue-green algae concerns mount on Caloosahatchee amid rainy season

Blue-green algae has become a problem recently on the Caloosahatchee River, and it’s taking over some areas of it such as at W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam in Olga.

Green and slimy blue-green algae is something many in Southwest Florida have seen in abundance in the past, and what is being seen now might not clear up soon because rainy season is underway. A lot of rain could mean bad news for water quality.

We are at a crossroads in May: On one hand, we desperately need the rain, but on the other, rain means more runoff and potentially more Lake Okeechobee discharges, which could pollute our waterways.

We spoke to Jay Zaleski at the Davis Boat Ramp in Fort Myers Shores, where he was testing a couple of boats.

“Just water testing boats and doing some mile-an-hour runs,” Zaleski explained.

Zaleski could see algae lingering in the water there.

“As soon as I got here, I’ve seen green film on the water,” Zaleski said. “So I asked right away what it was.”

Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani has also seen the algae blooming in the Caloosahatchee.

“We hadn’t planned to sample for toxins this early in the season, but so the blooms have accelerated,” Cassani said. “They’re here in abundance now, and so we thought it was a good time to start doing some toxin analysis.”

Cassani told us, while we’re dealing with dry weather now, rain down the road could bring a big flush.

“With the rainfall, the kind of the dichotomy here is that the first big rainfall flush brings about 90% of the pollutants seasonally,” Cassani said.

The runoff, coupled with Lake Okeechobee releases, fuels blue-green algae.

Cassani took four samples Tuesday to send out to a lab. He expects to have toxin results later in the week.

Mike Parsons, a professor at FGCU’s The Water School, told us, while we’re seeing a similar pattern from past years with the blue-green algae and red tide, there’s at least one difference.

“We’re not suffering from the hurricane hangover of Irma,” Parson said. “So we don’t necessarily have the same freshwater inputs that we had, a lot of the nutrients that came down the river, the flows that we had, like we saw in 2017 with Irma.”

Regardless, it’s added pressure to public health, environment and economy.

“I think we really need to keep the pressure on our elected officials to make sure they fund projects to make sure they realize that water quality and public health is really important,” Parsons said.

Reporter:Stephanie Byrne
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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