September 26, 2017
Lake O water historically high; so is bacteria level
By Chuck Myron
FORT MYERS, Fla. Water levels are up after Hurricane Irma, and so are populations of bacteria in the water, environmental activists say. Lake Okeechobee is at 16.21 feet, its second-highest level in 10 years, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.
That’s prompted the Corps to send lake water into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers that flow to the west and east coasts, respectively, in their continuing effort to protect the aging Hoover Dike that surrounds the lake.
Some two and a half billion gallons of lake water are flowing into the Caloosahatchee daily — water that has been blamed for brown murkiness and toxic blue-green algae in the past.
This time, the water is carrying an unusually high volume of bacteria kicked up by Irma, said John Cassani, the leader of Calusa Waterkeeper, a nonprofit clean water advocacy group. “It’s not a good time to be in and around the water very much right now,” Cassani said. “If you ingest enough and you get it in your nose or eyes, it can make you pretty sick.”
The amount of bacteria in the water since the storm has been as high as five or six times the level needed to declare a beach advisory, Cassani said. Lee and Collier counties issued advisories after the storm but have since lifted them.
The bacteria issue is temporary, but the effect of the water releases might not be, Captains for Clean Water founder Daniel Andrews said. “The long term damages of that, of weeks and weeks after the storm, of still getting that water that historically never would have made it to the Caloosahatchee or St. Lucie, that’s what’s most concerning to us,” Andrews said.