Water-Related News

Federal judge orders Army Corps to study toxic algae in Lake O releases

A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to evaluate the harm to wildlife caused by water released from Lake Okeechobee.

In an order Monday, Judge Donald Middlebrooks gave the Corps a year to complete the assessment with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The study must look at how managing the lake influences blue-green algae and red tide, and what harm the two algae may cause protected manatees, sea turtles, wood storks and other species.

The study, according to the judge's order, should also look at how the lake water damages habitat, including sea grass beds; whether the loss of seagrass harms the animals; and whether the huge releases from the lake — regardless of algae — also harm wildlife.

The order covers the two areas most damaged by the releases: the St. Lucie River Estuary and Indian River Lagoon, north to Hutchinson Island and south to Hobe South along with the Caloosahatchee River and parts of the Gulf coast, north to Boca Grande and south to San Carlos Bay and Matanzas Pass.

Jaclyn Lopez, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said the ruling is the first time federal courts have ordered the Corps to consider the environmental harm caused by releasing water from the lake.