Water managers announced Thursday they would increase the dumping of water from Lake Okeechobee that over the summer spread guacamole-thick algae across the Treasure Coast.
Starting Friday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said water released to the east would double to about 8,800 gallons per second. Releases to the west will remain about the same, although water levels will be measured at a gate directly on the lake rather than downstream, which in past weeks also included local run-off, said Corps spokesman John Campbell.
On Thursday, the lake reached 15.36 feet, just a few inches shy of a 15.5-foot target level but still far below the 17.5 feet where the aging dike around the lake could begin to fail.
“We’ve held off as long as we feel we can, given there’s still a little bit of wet season and chance of tropical” storms, Campbell said. “We just feel we need to increase the flows if nothing else to slow the rise.”
In the last two weeks, the lake rose a foot after Tropical Storm Hermine unleashed heavy rain across the state. While that seems high, it’s still far below16.4 feet reached in February following record rain and which marked the highest level in a decade. To protect the dike, the Corps began flushing the maximum amount of water allowed — about 30,000 gallons a second to the west and 13,000 to the east — which triggered the massive algae bloom as polluted freshwater flooded estuaries and infuriated residents.
To reduce the bloom, the Corps began pulsing releases to ease pressure and also slowed releases as the lake receded. The algae blooms also began to clear up.
“We’re trying to find a good balance,” Campbell said. “One of the reasons we’re not doing the maximum amount is because we continue to be very sensitive to the environmental impacts that the freshwater from Lake Okeechobee causes.”