How Lake Okeechobee contributes to red tide
While red tide invades our shoreline, there’s a lot of debate over how Lake Okeechobee contributes to the outbreak.
A lot of fingers are pointing to Lake Okeechobee for the most recent outbreak. It began in the month after Hurricane Ian. Researchers are evaluating whether we are headed for an environmental storm.
“The research that our lab has done in collaboration with UF has shown that the nitrogen from Lake Okeechobee is combining with other natural factors that cause red tide bloom to increase the initiation and intensity of the red tide blooms,” said Leah Reidenbach, an Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation research and policy associate.
Reidenbach points out that what we are experiencing now, five months after Ian, is similar to what happened after Irma in 2018.
Before Irma and Ian, Lake Okeechobee levels were low, then rose quickly after the storms.
“And the strategy after Irma was to release the water from the lake as soon as possible, as much as they could. So we were completely inundated with flows after Hurricane Irma. And that’s what was thought to contribute to the red tide blooms of 2018 that made them so intense and so long,” Reidenbach said.
After Ian, there was a different strategy: release for only six weeks compared to those four long months after Irma. “And the total volume of water that’s been released from the lake this year is 2.75 times less than it was after Irma,” said Reidenbach.