Lake Okeechobee Cleanup Efforts

Fishing in Lake Okeechobee

Fishing in Lake Okeechobee

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Lake Okeechobee means “big water” in Seminole Indian language. The lake is one of the biggest freshwater lakes in the U.S. covering 730 sq. miles on its’ surface. Its’ average depth is only 9 ft. but can vary substantially with the rainy season and with the canals, tributaries and sheet flow of water feeding into it. The canals and tributaries bring with them harmful quantities of phosphorous, nitrogen and pollutants from nearby farms, cattle ranches, mining operations and urban areas. The lake has many thousands of tons of phosphorous in the bottom which makes the lake harmful for fish, drinking water or release into the Everglades for which it was intended.

The U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers and South Florida water Management District has been working for years to help purify or make cleaner the lakes water by creating Water Conservation Areas (WCA)  and Storm Water Treatment Area’s  (STA) which are used as storage basins for some of the lakes water. The WCA’s and STA’s which are composed of thousands of acres of land are used to help  filter the polluted water of nitrogen, phosphorous and other pollutants before it is sent to the Everglades or communities where it may be used as drinking water or marshes and wetlands which serve as habitat for wildlife. When the lake reaches dangerous levels approaching 15 ft., the USACE has no choice but to use the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers as release points to flush billions of gallons of lake water out of the lake so that nearby towns surrounding lake Okeechobee will not be threatened with flooding.

The area around the lake has been in the news lately because of the option for the state legislature to buy large tracts of land surrounding the lake for environmental purposes. The state legislature has not been unanimous in their effort to buy land for millions of dollars. They have been urged by environmentalists and those who want to continue the cleanup efforts to buy this land and direct the flow of water southward towards the Everglades and not through the estuaries east and west of the lake. The South Florida Water Management District has some good information about the cleanup efforts about Lake Okeechobee on their website.

 

 

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