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Ongoing Lake O Releases a Continued Concern

March 18, 2024
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Aerial views over the Sanibel Lighthouse on Feb. 20, 2024. Lighthouse Beach Park is the ideal location to photograph water clarity, as this region is where the Caloosahatchee Estuary meets the Gulf of Mexico. View more aerial images.

It’s been over a month since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began releasing Lake Okeechobee discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers, and SCCF continues to express concerns for the health of our ecosystems.

From March 16-29, a daily average of 4,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) is scheduled to be sent to the west coast, while an average of 1,800 cfs per day will be sent east.

table of lake okeechobee releases from march 16 to march 29 2024

“We are beginning to see signs of stress in the estuaries as salinities are held low, and the change in water clarity has been noticed by everyone,” wrote SCCF Environmental Policy Director Matt DePaolis in a public comment letter addressed to Colonel James Booth, USACE Jacksonville District Commander. “We were happy to hear that this may be the last 14-day period of full releases, and urge the Corps to stop completely, or drastically lower the volume of, the releases to protect the oyster spawn that will likely be beginning at the end of March.”

Nutrient-rich water from Lake Okeechobee entering the Caloosahatchee could potentially fuel future algae blooms, and a cyanobacteria bloom was reported at the Alva Boat Ramp on March 11.

Since releases began, SCCF’s River, Estuary, and Coastal Observing Network (RECON) sensors have detected an increase in phycocyanin, a pigment in the water associated with blue-green algae, in both Moore Haven (by Lake Okeechobee) and Alva (by the Franklin Lock & Dam).

“With the environmental and economic risk associated with a potential bloom, we ask that future releases be limited to lower the danger of exacerbating this trend and potentially leading to larger algae blooms in the Caloosahatchee river,” DePaolis said.

Stay up to date with the impacts of these releases by subscribing to SCCF’s Weekly Water Conditions Tracker and Caloosahatchee Conditions Reports.

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