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Study Shows Need to Reduce Nutrient Runoff from Watershed

April 3, 2024
Caloosahatchee Rover 7 12 23 1600

A new publication from SCCF’s Marine Laboratory on nutrient sources and water management shows that Lake O releases have a negative impact on downstream water quality, but that water runoff from the local watershed has an even greater negative effect.

The recently published peer-reviewed article discusses increases in nutrient concentrations related to watershed runoff and regulatory releases.

“We analyzed nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations in the Caloosahatchee River and Estuary (CRE), a waterway that receives released water from Lake Okeechobee to understand whether there were relationships between Lake Okeechobee water releases and nutrient concentrations in the CRE,” said Marine Lab Director Eric Milbrandt, Ph.D. “We found that released water had a negative impact on downstream water quality, but that water runoff from the surrounding land area, or the watershed, had a greater negative effect.”

The lead author is from North Carolina State University with other co-authors from the University of Florida and University of South Florida. The full article, which was featured in the March 2024 issue of Water Resources Research, is available for download here:

Until projects are designed and built to send excess water south, the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries will continue to receive regulatory releases from Lake Okeechobee.

This study demonstrates that after regulatory releases are reduced through the construction of additional reservoirs, the watershed for the Caloosahatchee will produce runoff that has a negative impact on estuarine water quality if steps are not taken to reduce it.

“A number of strategies to reduce nutrient runoff are needed in Lee County and beyond,” said Milbrandt. “These include preserving existing wetlands, creating filter marshes, reducing development, and implementing best management practices on agricultural lands.”

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