What a Difference a Year Makes

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A year ago we were watching the Blue Green Algae outbreak in Lake O, the Caloosahatchee River, Cape Coral and Fort Myers canals. We worried the algae would find a home in our canals.

We know that a major water quality factor is Lake O releases. When the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) began releases on June 1, 2018, we knew we were in for some bad water. We had no idea how bad.

Shortly after Hurricane Irma in September 2017, a Red Tide bloom developed in the Gulf of Mexico, fed by massive run-off from the torrential rains, with lots of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. Lake O releases were also pumping nutrients into the Gulf.

So, while we were looking east and worried about Blue Green Algae, we got walloped by the Red Tide bloom that moved onshore last July with massive deposits of dead sea life. July 2018 brought us the perfect storm of algae. Blue Green from the east, Red Tide from the west.

Our beaches were cleaned, our water cleared and that Red Tide bloom did eventually end in December, six months later.

Today, there is no Red Tide anywhere in Florida waters, on either coast.

Our water is gorgeous, clear and a perfect playground for boaters and beachgoers for months and months at a time. Our water looks good now because Lake O releases have been managed differently this year.

For years we heard that the USACE couldn’t do anything about the Lake O releases. They had to follow the release rules. This year, the USACE has minimized releases, letting the lake drop to levels unseen in years. They said to allow lakebed grasses to grow again. Hmmm.

Our water is now clear, with occasional red drift algae floating in on the tide. The difference from last year could not be more striking. So why the difference in releases?

New governor who has made water quality a priority? New South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Board? Overwhelming public sentiment for improved water quality?

Florida’s best water scientists are now working on harmful algae bloom (HAB) research. We hope to learn how they start, how they grow, how they are dangerous to humans and animals and what can be done to stop the HABs. Last year, our prospects for answers to those questions were bleak. This year, they are not. And that is progress.

It’s important that those of us who live or visit here, keep the pressure on elected officials to make water quality a priority.

The progress that we’ve seen in the past year needs to continue.

 

Missy Layfield
Editor