Nature is like a trampoline. It bounces back when things go wrong. But, if you take springs out of the trampoline, it doesn't bounce back as well afterwards. When things are compounded, you never know which missing spring will cause the system to crash.
Kristie Anders
Education Director
Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation
Local Effects


Leaders of our community are sounding the alarm. Our way of life as we know it is slipping away in some areas of the county. The impact of the quantity, quality and timing of freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee is dramatic and far-reaching.

The release of freshwater from Lake Okeechobee poses three problems for our area's ecosystem:

  • Lake water is fresh. It lacks salt. Where rivers meet oceanic waters, estuaries form. Estuaries require just the right mix of fresh water and salt water to support the sea grasses and aquatic life that thrives there. Lake freshwater releases are displacing marine life and killing grasses. They do this by diluting the salinity in the estuaries in periods of high rain when freshwater needs to be released from the Lake. Similarly, the releases contribute to overly high salinity levels in periods of low rain or drought when freshwater is withheld or used for agricultural irrigation and public water supply, allowing salt water from the Gulf to move into the estuaries. This imbalance leads to the death of seagrasses in rivers and estuaries where endangered manatees and other marine life reside.
  • Lake water oftentimes is cloudy with sediments. The cloudiness blocks sunlight from underwater grasses and contributes to their death. Plants need sunlight to synthesize food. When the plants die, the marine life that feeds on them dies or moves elsewhere; and the shore birds that feed on the marine life also relocate.
  • Sediments in Lake Okeechobee are loaded with nitrogen and phosphorous pollutants - fertilizer byproducts. The fertilizers upset nutrient balances in the estuary and the Caloosahatchee River. When too much nutrient is introduced to a water way, algae takes over. When excessive water is released from Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee River and St. Lucie Canal become blanketed with blue-green algae; and the rivers and Gulf experience more frequent and more severe outbreaks of red drift algae. Scientists also have begun to explore a possible correlation between higher nutrient levels and more frequent and longer-lasting incidents of red tide.

As a result of these three factors, the incidents of dead oyster beds, wilted sea grasses, toxic algae blooms and fish kills have increased in our coastal estuaries and rivers. The area's estuary needs time to recover from the extreme discharges of water from Lake Okeechobee. The timing of releases is as important as the quantity and quality of the water. In addition to the impact on estuaries, at peak discharge periods, hundreds of square miles of the Gulf of Mexico marine environment also are affected by the freshwater plumes emanating from the Caloosahatchee River.

News Archive

News about water quality issues is happening every day. Here are just a few recent highlights.

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Stories From Your Neighbors

One way to truly understand the impact that freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee are having on Lee County is to hear your neighbors’ experiences. Those who live on or near the Caloosahatchee River are really seeing the effects first-hand. Here are their stories.

Read Local Stories

Tell Us Your Story

To tell us your tale, email us at mywaterstory@leegov.com. And thanks for taking time to help us better understand the scope of what’s happening to us all.

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Related Links

South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force:
http://www.sfrestore.org

South Florida Water Management District:
http://www.sfwmd.gov

More Links

Glossary

Phosphorus [P]:
An element or nutrient required for energy production in living organisms; distributed into the environment mostly as phosphates by agricultural runoff and life cycles; frequently the limiting factor for growth of microbes and plants.

Blue-Green Algae:
A type of algae natural to our area that blooms in the climatic and nutrient conditions it finds favorable.

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