We've suspected this all along. Through independent scientific research, corroborative evidence demonstrates that excess freshwater discharges laden with nutrients act as a catalyst for the proliferation, frequency and duration of red drift algae and red tide in our back bays and near-shore water.
Ray Judah
Lee County Commissioner
District 3
News Archive

SFWMD Exploring Options for Regional Water Storage
Additional surface water storage among possible options
Source: SFWMD Website

With the annual rainy season under way, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) is evaluating strategies that could increase regional storage and lessen the volume of future freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.

"The St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers and their estuaries are vital to the way of life of residents and businesses on both of Florida's coasts," said SFWMD Executive Director Carol Ann Wehle. "The options currently under evaluation will not prevent future lake releases by themselves, but they are part of the long-term solution for easing the burden on the estuaries. We recognize that a lot more work needs to be done."

At its May 13 meeting in Stuart, the SFWMD Governing Board heard the concerns of residents on both coasts about the harmful effects of freshwater lake releases on the estuaries. District staff shared information on its alternative water storage and treatment initiative and opportunities to expand shallow water storage on public and private lands. Staff has been building on existing efforts and developing new strategies, including:

  • Expanding surface water storage capacity around Lake Okeechobee. Since 2005, the District has been working with a coalition of other agencies, landowners, environmental organizations and researchers to add 127,100 acre-feet of surface water storage capacity on private, public and tribal lands. The District is continuing to evaluate these projects while looking to further expand storage capacity for emergencies and the long term by:
  • Determining the feasibility of storing water on District lands and sites set aside for Everglades restoration projects on an interim basis. For viable District and state properties with lessees, the District is asking the lessees to retain more storm water on site. Some District lessees have already made system modifications to retain more storm water. For properties that do not have a lease or reservation, the District is in the process of developing designs, construction and operation cost estimates and schedules.
  • Developing a dispersed water and treatment solicitation program to select cost-beneficial projects for implementation to obtain more storage and retention capacity. The District is currently reaching out to private landowners to gauge their interest in holding storm water on their land or storing regional runoff and exploring project concepts.
  • Partnering with the City of West Palm Beach on a pilot project to store storm water that would otherwise be lost to tide. The pilot project involves intercepting water from the C-51 canal, which runs parallel to Southern Boulevard, during times when the canal is releasing water to tide. The intercepted storm water would be treated at the city's existing Renaissance Project facility and stored in Clear Lake near Okeechobee Boulevard.
  • Partnering in Palm Beach County with Florida Power & Light (FPL) to improve water quality at the L-8 Reservoir and temporarily increase storage capacity. FPL will soon install temporary pumps to use approximately 10 percent of the reservoir water to cool its new West County Energy Center. In early 2011, FPL's reclaimed water system will be in place. Until then, the withdrawals will make room for additional water storage for the District to use during the 2010 rainy season. In addition, the partnership will create an opportunity for rainfall and stormwater runoff to lower chloride levels in the reservoir, allowing it to be used for its intended environmental purpose as part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP).
  • Utilizing aquifer storage and recovery (ASR). ASR involves injecting and storing water within underground aquifers until it needs to be recovered. The District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are pilot testing two ASR systems as part of CERP. The most recent test at the Kissimmee River ASR pilot well was able to store 1,500 acre-feet of water.
  • Releasing water south to the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) and when capacity is available in the regional system. Over the course of the 2009-2010 dry season, the District sent 73,731 acre-feet of water south from Lake Okeechobee to maintain EAA canal levels, helping to lower the lake level.

    During a recent eight-day combined water supply and water storage release in late May, the combined average flow of water south, as measured at the S-351, S-352 and S-354 structures, was 1,351 cubic feet per second (cfs) per day, or 21,438 total acre-feet. For comparison, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' (the Corps) targets for its most recent round of releases were 1,170 cfs per day to the St. Lucie Estuary and 3,000 cfs per day to the Caloosahatchee Estuary.

In addition to the District's current efforts, the long-term solution for reducing freshwater releases from the lake to the estuaries includes:

  • The Corps is continuing its efforts to rehabilitate the 75-year-old Herbert Hoover Dike, which will eventually allow it to safely hold more water in the lake. The Corps recently awarded a $40 million contract for repairs to the most vulnerable section of the dike between Port Mayaca and Belle Glade.
  • The completion of CERP projects will enable the District and the Corps to send more clean water south to the Everglades.
  • The District's pending purchase of strategically located land owned by the United States Sugar Corporation south of Lake Okeechobee, which would significantly increase water storage south of the lake.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages Lake Okeechobee water levels with the goal of balancing flood control, public safety, navigation, water supply and ecological health. The Corps bases operational decisions whether to retain or release water in the 730-square-mile lake on its regulation schedule and the best available science and data provided by its staff and a variety of partners, including the District.

Since late March, the Corps has been periodically releasing water from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries to lower the lake level for the rainy season for public health and safety purposes. During the November-to-May dry season, South Florida received an average of 24.67 inches of rainfall, nearly 6 inches above normal. The water level in Lake Okeechobee reached as high as 15.15 feet in early May. The Corps strives to manage the lake between 12.5 and 15.5 feet to protect the integrity of the Herbert Hoover Dike.

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.

Send Your Story

Related Links

South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force:

South Florida Water Management District:

More Links


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.

Go to the Glossary