After a spike in lake draining earlier this summer, bright-green, foul-smelling algae coated waterways near Stuart. That made the water unsafe for fishing and swimming and scared away tourists.
"We are getting bombarded by these [lake] discharges," said Mark Perry, executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society in Stuart. "It's still pretty nasty water."
A rainier-than-usual winter and spring followed by the summer rainy season, have boosted South Florida water levels from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades.
As a result, the Army Corps of Engineers since January has been draining billions of gallons of water each day east toward Stuart and west toward Fort Myers.
Those large influxes of freshwater form the lake disturb conditions in the normally salty estuaries, killing seagrass and scaring off game fish. That lake water also brings with it polluting phosphorus – draining in from farms and urban areas – that can trigger toxic algae blooms that make coastal waterways unsafe for swimming and fishing.
Instead of more lake draining to the coasts, environmental groups and representatives of those coastal communities have called for draining more lake water to the south – where it once naturally flowed before South Florida development and sugar farms spread across the northern reaches of the Everglades.
The South Florida Water Management District has taken emergency steps to boost pumping in South Florida, but water levels in portions of the Everglades stretching north through western Broward and Palm Beach counties remain too high to take much more water, according to the district.
And flooding sugar cane fields and other farmland south of the lake isn't an option, according to district spokesman Randy Smith.
"You can't intentionally flood someone," Smith said. "There's already a lot of water in the south."
To boost South Florida's water storage options, state Sen. Joe Negron is pushing a $2.4 billion proposal to build a 120-billion-gallon reservoir on farmland south of the lake. Negron, the next state Senate president, represents Stuart and other coastal communities suffering from lake draining.
Environmental groups have long backed building that type of reservoir.
The sugar industry and farming communities south of the lake have objected to taking more land out of agricultural production. They also say the reservoir wouldn't be able to hold enough water to avoid draining lake water east and west.
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