The race is on to prevent a repeat of 2018 when blue-green algae covered the Caloosahatchee River and canals in Southwest Florida, which caused major health concerns.
Water releases from Lake Okeechobee won’t stop anytime soon, and that water is potentially carrying toxic algae down the Caloosahatchee.
If you ask about the level of the lake, things don’t seem so bad. It was at 13.25 feet Friday, and the goal is to get it under 13 feet by the start of the rainy season.
“That puts us in a significantly better place than we could have imagined back in the February time frame,” said Col. Andrew Kelly with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District.
What people don’t have to imagine is the blue-green algae moving toward Southwest Florida from the lake.
“Dead fish. Breathtaking. Nasty,” Chris Wellman said.
We met Wellman on his first visit to W.P. Franklin Lock, and it will probably be his last until the algae and stench are gone.
It’s less of a matter of if and more of a matter of as to when the algae will grow worse.
“The fact that we have, you know, algae covering this much of the lake at this early in the year, it looks a lot like 2018 to be honest with you,” said Jessica Pinsky with Captains for Clean Water.
Pinsky’s focus is preventing a spell like 2018 and helping revise Lake Okeechobee operations.
“What we would ideally like to see is a model that is, you know, distributes the water fairly among all of the users for the environment and sends as much water south in the dry season,” Pinsky said.
They hope the windy weather helps breaks up some of the current algae.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected to unveil new guidelines for Lake Okeechobee based on community suggestions in June.