Environmental Report: Damaging freshwater releases impacting SWFL
Photo: Video by fox4now.com
CREATED Jul. 26, 2013 - UPDATED: Jul. 27, 2013
LEE COUNTY, Fla.- 4 In Your Corner continues to follow damaging water releases from Lake Okeechobee. Millions of gallons of fresh water that have been draining into the gulf are turning our coastal waters dark brown and wiping out plants and sea life.
The already extremely wet rainy season has caused levels on Lake Okeechobee to rise at an alarming rate and Lee County's Natural Resources Division Director Roland Ottolini said it is impacting the Southwest Florida coast.
" It has been wet very early on in this season, we're just starting to get tropical activity out there and we have a whole hurricane season ahead of us. So, getting this amount of water is worrisome." Ottolini said.
As of Friday, July 26th, the lake sat at 15.62 feet. Ottolini said all the extra water needs to go somewhere to make room for more and SWFL happens to be the most efficient route.
"One of the things they did was to connect Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee River, also to the St. Lucie River to the east to provide for agricultural purposes and development in this region. When they did that, they made it very efficient for storm water run off from Lake Okeechobee to our way." Ottolini said.
Ottolini said there are constant studies being done to look for alternatives but there's a lot at stake. Sending water elsewhere could affect our wildlife and agriculture industry.
" It is the path of least resistance meaning hydraulically, but also perhaps legally in that there's no federal law suits that prevent them from sending water our way." Ottolini said.
Ottolini said one option is to re-attach the Everglades to the Okeechobee basin, but that also draws major concern.
"It is a very expensive project a lot of stake holders are involved and it will take some time, a lot of time and a lot of money." Ottolini said.
Ottolini said right now, the biggest priority is keeping lake levels down and surrounding areas must absorb the excess.
"You're putting one environmental ecosystem to the ecosystem here and also to the St. Lucie River ecosystem so it is very difficult. There's not necessarily a win win for everybody." Ottolini said.