By: Katrina Elsken, Okeechobee News
OKEECHOBEE — Record rainfall in May and continuing heavy rains this month are causing ecological damage, according to a report given by South Florida Water Management District Water Resources Director Terrie Bates at the June 14 meeting of the SFWMD Governing Board. Algae found in the St. Lucie watershed is coming from many sources, not just Lake Okeechobee, she said.
“The perception that there is this huge channel of the algae coming from the lake isn’t correct,” she said.
She said there are other sources of algae coming into the estuary from the local watershed.
The watershed that drains into the canals and waterways that discharge though the St. Lucie Estuary received over 450 percent of normal rainfall in May, she said.
“All of the area, when you have 450 percent of normal rainfall, everything has discharged into the estuary system, every canal, every stormwater pond,” she continued. Algae is commonly present in all freshwater, and it tends to grow faster in stagnant water. The heavy rainfall in May flushed out ponds and canals into the drainage system that goes into the St. Lucie estuary.
She said there is even algae in the storm water pond at the SFWMD main office. “We’ve got blue-green algae in the storm water pond. It fills up; it discharges. It’s going to the C-51 canal,” she said.
“The lake jumped very rapidly in the course of a month. It has gone up about a foot and a quarter,” said Ms. Bates. “All of the effects around the system ecologically, the lake is feeling the same thing.”
On June 1, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started discharging water from Lake Okeechobee east to the St. Lucie and west to the Caloosahatchee, she continued.
“The discharge to the estuaries for the last week, about a third of the flow coming into the St. Lucie estuary were from Lake Okeechobee. We’re still having significant discharges coming from those local basins and tidal tributaries,” she said.
Even before any discharges started from Lake Okeechobee, the estuary had already been completely overloaded with freshwater, she said…