From the desk of our Executive Director, Eve Samples, your Voice of the Everglades update:

This is it — the most intense month of “algae season” is upon us. Weather patterns and water-management decisions in the coming weeks will determine whether or not the northern estuaries get a toxic deluge from Lake Okeechobee, where a giant algae bloom persists.  

Lake Okeechobee stands at 15.3 feet, well above average for this time of year. If the lake climbs to 16.5 feet before rainy season winds down, the Army Corps of Engineers is likely to discharge massive volumes of polluted lake water to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers and the Lake Worth Lagoon. So far, we’ve been spared that fate in 2023.

Meanwhile, the South Florida Water Management District is not sending any water south from the lake, due to a broken system that prioritizes near-perfect irrigation and drainage for about 400,000 acres of sugarcane. 

Lake O has been lighting up with algae all summer. An estimated 280 square miles of the lake is covered with blue-green algae, according to NOAA. Some of that algae contains toxins that pose a risk to human health, and some of it has migrated to communities along the canals connected to Lake O — including Timer Powers Park in Indiantown, where a bloom 100 times too toxic to touch emerged on August 3.

There is a glimmer of hope, though. The algae in Lake O isn’t as intense as it was a month ago, possibly because it has consumed much of the nitrogen that fuels it. 

We’ve been on “algae watch” all summer, and we’re now entering the most critical period for vigilance. The historic peak of hurricane season is September 10. One storm over Lake O could force the flood gates wide open to the fragile northern estuaries.

Toxic algae is more than an environmental concern — it’s a threat to human health, our economy and our future as a state. Friends of the Everglades is committed to keeping you informed on current conditions, and to fighting for policy improvements that will keep us safer in the future.

Your support powers our vigilance. If you’ve donated recently, thank you. If it’s been a while, I invite you to make a contribution now to support our work for a better environmental future in Florida.