Lake Okeechobee, often referred to as “The Lake”, is the largest freshwater lake in the state of Florida. Due to heavy rainfall, Lake Okeechobee was experiencing its highest water levels in nearly a century. Once the water levels hit a foot above normal, public officials decided to take action out of fear that the high level of water was exerting too much stress on the lake’s aging dike. The Corps of Engineers began periodically to release millions, sometimes billions of gallons of water to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers. However, there was one major problem: Lake Okeechobee’s water is high in nutrients and other contaminants, and has been causing harmful algal blooms, fish kills and other related problems all the way to the coast on both sides of the state.
At the time, Senate President-elect Joe Negron unveiled his plan to find property south of Lake Okeechobee where water could be stored to minimize harmful discharges into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers. While this plan had some merit, the problem was quite complex and the plan did not address systemic issues caused by excessive nutrient loading and deteriorating water quality. In addition, Negron’s proposed solution did not address the problem in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers. Due to the releases from Lake Okeechobee, both rivers have become nutrient laden, and likely exhibit the ecological problems so often seen in nutrient-rich, oxygen-poor environments. The sediment nutrients will continue to fuel algal blooms until the rivers are addressed.
At Clean-Flo, we feel that a piece of the solution should be laminar flow inversion-oxygenation to increase dissolved oxygen levels at the bottom of Lake Okeechobee as well as various locations in the two rivers. This would help to limit nutrient releases from the sediments and also promote rapid organic sediment reduction. This approach was applied to Lake Apopka in a pilot study in 2015. Results of the study estimated that 500,000 cubic yards or more of sediment were biodegraded in a 250-acre area in just 10 months. This reduction of sediments naturally reduces the need to dredge this organic material and at the same time makes the lake deeper and better for all aquatic life
Okeechobee is one of the largest lakes in the US, but it is similar to so many other lakes that are overloaded with nutrient pollution and other chemicals. The US EPA states that, “Nutrient pollution is one of America’s most widespread, costly, and challenging environmental problems.”
The approach taken at Lake Apopka has been successful on many full-scale projects for lakes, drinking water reservoirs, ponds, rivers, and wastewater facilities. Our approach not only reduces nutrients, organic sediments, coliform bacteria and odors, but improves the water quality for all aquatic life and recreational activities. The benefit of reducing nutrients is reductions in nuisance algae and aquatic weed growth.