A huge algae bloom in Lake Okeechobee could send blankets of green slime to both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of Florida this summer.
A wave of algae moved this week down the Caloosahatchee River toward the state’s southwest coast.
The green slime also appeared on the eastern banks of the lake and pushed against a gate that leads to the St. Lucie River.
In 2016, an algae bloom in Lake Okeechobee clogged the St. Lucie River for months with blankets of algae as thick as eight inches. In past years, green waves of algae released from the lake have killed fish, oysters and sea grass and have hurt tourism destinations on the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers
On Thursday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that it would stop releasing water from the lake into the estuaries of the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie for nine days. But the releases probably will resume as summer rain raises the lake’s water level.
The Army Corps of Engineers maintains a dike around Lake Okeechobee and tries to keep the lake’s water levels higher during dry season and lower during rainy season.
Since Hurricane Irma last September, scientists have been concerned that the storm stirred up the lake’s bottom, where nutrients have been settling for decades.
While most of the nutrients come from water running off farms and ranches, the lake also is polluted by storm water from cities and leaking septic tanks.
Record-breaking rainfall in May has forced the Army Corps of Engineers to release some of the lake’s nutrient-filled water to the coasts to protect aquatic life and relieve pressure on the dike, which is undergoing $1.6 billion of repair work. [Miami Herald] – Mike Seemuth