Water-Related News

Expect ‘a summer of slime’ on Lake Okeechobee, Caloosahatchee River

The surface of Lake Okeechobee is expected to turn the wrong color this summer as all the elements for a huge outbreak of blue-green algae are in place.

Warm water, ample sunlight, and calm weather is what blue-green algae needs to flourish, and those conditions are present in South Florida every summer. But the key ingredient for any harmful algae bloom in the lake — nutrients -- are usually stuck down in the muck.

But what is “usual” has changed in South Florida since Hurricane Ian. Stronger tropical cyclones caused by warming ocean waters due to rising temperatures worldwide are tilting environmental conditions in favor of worsening natural disasters, and that includes harmful algae blooms such as blue-green algae and red tide.

Last fall’s Category 4 storm whipped up waves on Lake Okeechobee and churned up the bottom, where accumulated layers of phosphorus and nitrogen that washed off nearby industrial-scale farms and settled long ago were stirred up into the water column.

“What you have is a perfect storm of possibility for blue-green algae blooms that are going to feed off those nutrients,” said Gil Smart, the director of VoteWater, a nonprofit working to stop algae-laden discharges from Lake Okeechobee. “We've seen both federal and state water managers sound the alarm about the potential for this.”