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

June 1, 2007

Unprecedented drought and record-breaking water lows have added up to opportunity for environmental restoration on Lake Okeechobee. Field crews are working quickly to remove exposed muck from the dry lake bed before summer rains and the hurricane season, which starts today, bring a slew of storms and lake levels start to rebound.

"We're working against time," said Dr. Susan Gray, Director of the District's Lake Okeechobee Program, "but we want this job to be completed as planned, and so far our progress is steady and impressive. If we achieve our goals before the onset of summer rains, we should see some desired improvements in wildlife habitat and water quality."

Since work began last week, more than 15,000 truckloads of muck have been hauled away from the lake bed, equating to about 300,000 cubic yards. Removing the muck, laden with legacy nutrients, is preventing 25 tons of phosphorus from flowing south into the Everglades.

Some significant rainfall is forecast for the coming weekend, according to District meteorologists, as tropical moisture moves up from the Gulf of Mexico across South Florida. Muck removal could be slowed slightly but will not be stopped by a few inches of rain, according to project managers, who say that heavy, off-road equipment can handle wet muck without any trouble. Only if the lake level rises significantly over the summer, to about 10.5 feet, will the work have to stop.

Muck removal will return the lake bottom to a more sandy base, improving water quality and restoring wildlife habitat after the drought ends and lake levels return to normal. Native plants and desirable sport fish, such as bass and crappie, are expected to thrive when the shoreline habitat improves. Apple snails, the primary food source of the federally endangered snail kite, are also expected to increase in number.

Phosphorus, a common fertilizer ingredient, is found in Lake Okeechobee muck, and it flows out of the lake when water levels are higher. It also impacts the ecology in Everglades environments, so six large treatment wetlands covering 40,000 acres have been built to remove it. When the muck removal project is complete, about 280 tons of phosphorus will be gone, equating to more than 1 1/2 year's worth of downstream treatment.

Fires currently burning on dry areas of the lake bed are not hampering muck removal activities. District vegetation managers report that fire has cleared 30,000 acres of unwanted vegetation, which will further aid restoration efforts in the lake.

Workers have been scraping and hauling away muck from six sites around the 730-square-mile lake since the South Florida Water Management District's Governing Board released $11 million in emergency funds for the time-dependent work. Disposal of the material is being coordinated with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and regional landowners, who have expressed interest in applying the rich muck soils to their properties.

The lake's water level, measured today at 8.89 feet NGVD, broke the all-time record low yesterday, originally set during the 2001 drought at 8.97 feet NGVD. (National Geodetic Vertical Datum, or NGVD, is a nationally established coordinate system used to determine elevation, especially in areas close to sea level.) Just 41 inches of rain have fallen across the 16-county region over the last 12 months more than 10 inches below the annual average.

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:

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