Some have erroneously claimed that farms south of Lake Okeechobee contribute to the ecological problems in Lake Okeechobee and on the coasts, as they claim that farmers back pump farm water to the lake, which is not true. We encourage you to read the special report from the Palm Beach Post, especially excerpts below.
Your local farmers,
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
SPECIAL REPORT: A foul task – cleaning up Florida’s red tide corpses
Kimberly Miller, Palm Beach Post 08/10/2018
This summer, that means the devastating red tide is happening at the same time as a toxic blue-green algae bloom spreads in the Caloosahatchee River and St. Lucie Estuary. They are two separate organisms. Red tide lives in higher salinity ocean conditions while blue-green algae, which is actually a cyanobacteria, lives in freshwater.
But red tide and the cyanobacteria both thrive in nutrient-heavy conditions. Record May rainfall flooded Lake Okeechobee, the northern estuaries and near-shore waters with an algae smorgasbord of nutrient-rich runoff.
Water releases from Lake Okeechobee that are necessary to keep the Herbert Hoover Dike from breaching added blue-green algae and freshwater to the brackish estuaries that were already bombed by normal watershed runoff.
Although “back pumping” of water off farmland and sugarcane fields from south of Lake Okeechobee is often blamed for the algae blooms, the practice largely ended in the 1980s and occurs now only in emergency situations when communities around the lake are threatened with flooding.
There has been no measurable back pumping this year, according to the South Florida Water Management District. In 2016 and 2017, a total of 32 days of back pumping occurred after record rain events and during Hurricane Irma.
In the 12 years previous to 2016, a total of 70 days of back pumping occurred.
The lake does maintain legacy nutrients that can be stirred during heavy winds, such as with Hurricane Irma.
Runoff from communities, cattle ranches and farms north of the lake also add nutrients, although projects are underway to better clean and store that water before it reaches Lake O.
There’s little question lake releases into the estuaries contribute to the blue-green algae by weakening salinity levels, but Richard Stumpf, a scientist with the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, said there is no link between the red tide and Lake Okeechobee.
“There is not enough water coming out of the lake to explain a bloom that goes all the way to Naples,” Stumpf said.
Brian LaPointe, a Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute research professor, notes that several rivers carry nutrients to the Gulf of Mexico that could be feeding the red tide, including the Myakka River and Peace River.
“Lake O may have contributed some of the water, but not the majority,” LaPointe said.
What is red tide?
Red tide is a harmful bloom of the single-cell algae Karenia brevis. It occurs naturally, growing 20 to 40 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. It can be pushed into southwest Florida by a shift in fall weather patterns and cold fronts, but it typically dissipates during winter and is gone by March. It lives in higher salinity water and creates a toxin that attacks the nervous system.
What is blue-green algae?
Blue-green algae is a cyanobacteria that lives in fresh water and multiplies rapidly in still, hot and sunny conditions. It regularly grows in Lake Okeechobee in the summer, but becomes a bigger problem when the Caloosahatchee River and St. Lucie Estuary are flushed with freshwater from heavy rain and lake discharges. Lowering the salinity levels in the water helps the algae bloom. Toxins produced can cause rashes, respiratory problems, nausea and liver failure if people drink or swim in the water.