Water-Related News

Emergency Lake pumping started Wednesday, polluted water coming to Fort Myers

A state environmental agency gave a presentation in Fort Myers on Thursday on cleaning up the Caloosahatchee River while another state agency pumped polluted farm water into Lake Okeechobee, which drains into the river.

If water management in Florida seems confusing, that's because it is. The Army Corps of Engineers manages the Lake Okeechobee release protocol, but the South Florida Water Management District operates the pumps.

The district announced Thursday around 2 p.m. that it had declared an emergency the day before at 6 p.m., while the Army Corps was, ironically, taking public input in Clewiston on how to best protect areas around the lake from flooding.

How are these toxic releases possible?

"I'd call the water management district since they operate the pumps," said John Campbell, an Army Corps spokesman.

Shortly after that phone call between The News-Press and Campbell, the Army Corps sent out a press release saying it was going to lower the amount of lake water flowing to Fort Myers. Levels had been at 5,000 cubic feet per second, which is well beyond the ideal maximum level of 2,800 cubic feet per second. So the water releases were "lowered" to the maximum level.

Those types of discharges kill sea grass and oyster beds and can disrupt the marine food chain. But the water pumped back into Lake Okeechobee on Thursday from farms has far higher nutrient levels than the lake itself, which has been in violation of federal standards for decades even without the pollution loads from farms surrounding the lake.