Lake Okee­chobee’s al­gae bloom spreads

Palm Beach Daily News - - OPINION - By KIM­BERLY MILLER

The Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion es­ti­mates 40 per­cent of Lake Okee­chobee is now cov­ered in a harm­ful blue­green al­gae bloom, or cyanobac­te­ria, that mul­ti­plied quickly in the past two weeks.

Richard Stumpf, a NOAA oceanog­ra­pher mon­i­tor­ing al­gae on the lake via satel­lite, said the lake is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a “ma­jor bloom” that, un­for­tu­nately, is coin­cid­ing with lake dis­charges.

“Last year there was a large bloom, but they weren’t drop­ping the wa­ter level in the lake at the time and no­body paid any attention,” Stumpf said. “Lake O does get blooms and this is a big one, but it’s all about tim­ing. This year the tim­ing is bad.”

An NOAA satel­lite im­age from June 20 shows about 40 per­cent of the lake cov­ered by a harm­ful al­gae bloom.

State and fed­eral of­fi­cials this week took ex­treme mea­sures to re­duce lake dis­charges to the St. Lu­cie and Caloosa­hatchee es­tu­ar­ies while at the same time al­le­vi­at­ing high wa­ter lev­els in wa­ter con­ser­va­tion ar­eas fur­ther south.

On Thurs­day, the Army Corps of En­gi­neers an­nounced a re­duc­tion in lake flows to the St. Lu­cie and Caloosa­hatchee es­tu­ar­ies that of­fi­cials hope will give the brack­ish ecosys­tems a break from the fresh­wa­ter on­slaught that be­gan June 1.

That an­nounce­ment fol­lowed an emer­gency or­der is­sued Wed­nes­day by the Florida Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion that slashed per­mit­ting re­quire­ments al­low­ing for the im­me­di­ate in­stal­la­tion of tem­po­rary pumps to move more lake wa­ter south and out to the ocean.

Stumpf said any harm­ful al­gae near an area where wa­ter is be­ing dis­charged from the lake will travel through the sys­tem.

“The more of the lake it cov­ers, the harder it is to keep it from end­ing up where you don’t want it,” Stumpf said.

The harm­ful al­gae blooms are caused by tiny or­gan­isms nat­u­rally found in wa­ter. It some­times pro­duces tox­ins that can cause health prob­lems in hu­mans and pets.

The blooms are fu­eled by warm weather and by wa­ter en­riched with nu­tri­ents, such as those found in fer­til­iz­ers, sep­tic tanks and stag­nant wa­ter.

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