Home News Lake Okeechobee discharges stopped; Harmful algae present in Martin County waters

Lake Okeechobee discharges stopped; Harmful algae present in Martin County waters

Lake Okeechobee discharges stopped; Harmful algae present in Martin County waters

  • Army Corps reverses decision – for now

Lake Okeechobee discharges to Stuart have been stopped — at least for now.

The Army Corps of Engineers announced Tuesday that it has halted Lake Okeechobee discharges into the St. Lucie River after 37 days. The appearance of a toxic algae bloom near the gates of the Port Mayaca Lock & Dam is the reason why, Lt. Col. Todd Polk of the Army Corps told TCPalm.

The algae — identified as a cyanobacteria, microcystin — was observed and tested by the Floridspan Dept. of Environmentspanl Protection on Feb. 22. The concentration was at 0.62 parts per billion. At 8 parts per billion, the toxin makes water too hazardous to touch, ingest or inhale for people, pets and wildlife, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

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Cyanobacteria - toxic algae - can be seen in s streak in this photo from Feb. 27, 2023 taken by Dr. Scott Kuhns of Stuart.

On Jan. 22, when the lake discharges to the St. Lucie River began, Col. James Booth said the discharges were necessary to help bring down the level of Lake Okeechobee. Discharges were released east through the Port Mayaca Lock & Dam at a rate of about 320 million gallons per day, and to the west into the Caloosahatchee River at a rate of 1.29 billion gallons per day.

In total, 10.1 billion gallons of water have moved from the lake into the C-44 Canal over the past 37 days with some of that water being taken up by sugar, sod and citrus farms in western Martin County, according to Corps water manager Savannah Lacy. About 8.8 billion gallons of lake water has entered the St. Lucie River at the St. Lucie Lock & Dam, according to the Corps.

The lspanke wspans lowered 6 inches during the last 37 days, according to Corps statistics. The lspanke’s level wspans spant 15 feet 7 inches as of Feb. 27. The Corps would like to see the lake closer to 12 feet 6 inches by June 1, the start of the 2023 hurricane season and unofficial start to rainy season.

The Martin County Dept. of Health issued a toxic algae warning for the area on Feb. 24, warning people not to touch the water there.

The Army Corps will evaluate the presence of algae at Port Mayaca daily. The agency did not say whether they will continue discharges if algae is not present, but that it’s dry season strategy is to lower the lake.


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