By Scott Martin
Co-Founder of Anglers For Lake Okeechobee
As summer winds down, peak hurricane season rushes in and so does heavy rain and winds. Both elements have a major impact on Lake Okeechobee water levels, and those levels are at the heart of a heated debate because they’re blamed for blue-green algae blooms along coastal waterways.
Currently, the lake levels are averaging about 15.35 feet. The increasing Lake O water levels and now we are in hurricane season raises the likelihood of releases to the coast.
Lake levels are a real concern because they affect the environment, specifically the submerged vegetation (SAV) which naturally filters marshes and grasses keeping the lake water clean.
Levels too high can destroy the vegetation and negatively impact the lake’s future.
Additionally, the spraying of chemicals used to control hyacinth and non-native grasses has an adverse effect. As Co-Founder of Anglers for Lake O, we support finding alternatives to
spraying, such as mechanical harvesting, and managing lake levels on a daily basis.
Water levels on Lake O also influence tourism and the fishing industry. Fishing Lake
Okeechobee is my lifeblood. When I say I’m ‘Going Fishin’ I’m actually going to work. I know, it’s a tough job.
During summers like this year when rising Lake Okeechobee water levels create complications everywhere downstream, we need additional storage options that will help slow the flow of water into the lake. The state of Florida has done a yeoman’s job of advancing the storage projects north of Lake O, such as, the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project (LOWRP), ASR wells and now it’s time for our federal partners to step up to help us get the projects finished. In every effort to slow the flow into Lake O, ASR wells would be the quickest way to do so. If we had additional storage north of the lake in place, we wouldn’t be as worried about rising lake levels or harmful impacts to the coastal estuaries.
But we know there are a lot of reasons for algae and increased water levels including the
weather, inflow north of the lake, fertilizers, and septic tank issues. Blue-green algae are part of the lake’s natural ecosystem and like to grow in the warm, summer months.
It’s a seasonal dance we’ve all come to recognize. But more importantly, it’s one we now prepare for with knowledge based on science. Years of gathering research studied by collective, competent minds have created the strategy currently driving lake releases.
The science of hurricane season is unpredictable and that can cause stress and anxiety. But it’s reassuring to know the science surrounding Lake O has been proven year after year. The hope is the water release plan will stand up to the uncertainty of Mother Nature. So far, it’s been working.