“Save Our Water” has been the title of a series of news articles run by the Ft. Myers News Press during the 3rd week of October which helps to explain the water quality problems that are affecting the coastal communities of Ft. Myers on the west coast and Stuart on the west on the east coast of Florida.
The problem in short are the massive amounts of water released from Lake Okeechobee which sits in the middle of these two coastal communities. Lake Okeechobee is a very large lake covering 730 square miles and is surrounded by an earthen dike which helps protect the towns around it from flooding. It receives most of its water supply from the Kissimmee watershed to the north which starts near Orlando. The Army Corp of Engineers tries to keep the lake levels to less than 14 ft. and when it surpasses that level billion gallons of water are released through the locks down the Caloosahatchee River to the west and the St. Lucie River to the east. Lake Okeechobee contains excess amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous and other chemicals which create algae blooms and the “browning of the water” . Other harmful effects of the release of water is the killing of sea grasses, destruction of oyster beds, and creation of a harmful bacteria called cyanobacteria.
This past year has seen an unusual wet winter with over 10 inches of rain in January alone. The result has been more water coming into the lake carrying with it chemicals from farms, over fertilized laws and town runoff from communities in every direction of the lake. Large plumes of brown water and a blue-green algae has covered both rivers and the coastal communities they drain into on the west and east coasts of Florida.
Environmental activists and angry citizens affected by these water quality problems have been calling for the state to buy land south of the lake to store and move water towards the Everglades National Park where it once traveled before the dike was built around Okeechobee. State legislators in Tallahassee have been reluctant to do this saying other solutions need to be completed to alleviate the problem instead of more land purchases. In the meantime, our rivers and beaches have continued to be damaged and citizens whose properties have been affected are very angry. Learn more about the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project and efforts to halt the flow of harmful water pollution by the South Florida Water Management District.