Lake Okeechobee, often referred to as “The Lake”, is the largest freshwater lake in the state of Florida. Due to heavy rainfall during the month of January, 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 too much stress for the lake aging dike. The Corps of Engineers began to periodically release millions and sometimes billions of gallons of water to the St. Lucie River and the Caloosahatchee River. 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.
Senate President-elect Joe Negron recently unveiled his plan to find property south of Lake Okeechobee where they can store water and minimize harmful discharges into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers. While this plan has some merit, the problem is quite complex. In addition, Negron’s proposed solution does not address the problem in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee River. Due to the releases from Lake Okeechobee, both rivers are full of nutrients and likely organic sediments that consume dissolved oxygen. 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 aeration 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 organic sediment reduction. This approach is currently taking place in Lake Apopka, where it is estimated that 500,000 cubic yards or more of sediment have been 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 we have taken at Lake Apopka has been successful on many 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.
This problem isn’t exclusive to Lake Okeechobee, a recent study conducted by Michigan State University outlined water quality issues in the state of Michigan where our approach has been implemented in many water bodies to solve problems similar to Lake Okeechobee.
As for members of the Lake Okeechobee community or any communities whose water is impacted by nutrient pollutions, we encourage you to get involved and demand action to solve the problem. Do your part to help limit any additional nutrient impacts along these waterways due to fertilizers, leaking septic tanks, grass clippings, leaves, animal waste, etc. Also limit the use of chemicals and avoid direct chemical contact with water.