Water-Related News

'A ticking time bomb': Toxic algae expected to make a comeback

Experts say it's only a matter of time until the toxic algae makes its return. Although the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon have not been tested positive for toxic algae, Lake Okeechobee has.

“We’re sitting on a ticking time bomb,” said Dr. Zack Jud, the director of Education for the Florida Oceanographic Society. "Conditions in the lake are going to continue to favor algal growth and if we get enough rain to let the discharges that algae bloom is going to end up in our water shed, in our estuaries, just like it did last year.”

Lake Okeechobee is just under 13 feet, which South Florida Water Management District officials say is amazing for this time of year.

However, Jud isn’t surprised. The lake's water levels aren't higher due to a dry winter and spring, according to Jud. “Those dry months allowed our estuary to return to fairly normal solidity levels,” he said.

Jud also added that those dry or good years are crucial for recovery. "We’re looking at an ecosystem that's really at its ecological tipping point," he said. " We're so close to losing all our seagrasses and all of our oyster reefs and when you have multiple bad years in a row -- years with heavy freshwater discharge, years with bad algae blooms -- the ecosystem does not have a chance to recover.”

If the lake was managed like it was years ago, according to Jud, there would be more time. “In the past, if we had a very dry year, the lake dried down naturally," he said. "But today, because the lake is such an important source of water, for crops primarily, the lake is not allowed to get as low as it could get and that low lake is a great buffer for a subsequent wet year."

Jud is hoping the discharge from Lake Okeechobee can hold off a little longer. “This is a drowning victim coming up for a quick breath of air and we just hope that our ecosystem has enough chance to recover this year so it's resilient enough for future bad years,” he said.

The Department of Environmental Protection will continue to test the water in our area for toxic algae.