With Lake Okeechobee just under 16 feet, we’re concerned about what that could mean in the months ahead.

We’re already getting discharges east to the St. Lucie and west to the Caloosahatchee in an effort to bring that lake level down.

Though the Caloosahatchee does need some dry season flows to keep salinity in check, the nutrient pollution that comes with those discharges can be problematic.

Making matters worse — there’s an intense algae bloom predicted on Lake O this spring due to heavy rainfall from Hurricane Ian that caused the lake to rise, bringing nutrient-loaded runoff from the surrounding areas with it and putting stress on the submerged aquatic vegetation.

With wet season only 3 months away, we’re looking at a high lake, a predicted algae bloom and a significant red tide occurrence already plaguing the coast of southwest Florida. We know from research that Lake O discharges exacerbate and prolong these red tide blooms.

There is a solution: send more water south through a system of stormwater treatment areas. Unfortunately, priority access to these manmade filter marshes is currently given to Big Sugar. Until that changes, we’re living with the reality of toxic algae blooms threatening the east and west coast this spring and summer.

At Friends of the Everglades, we will continue working to call for reform that changes that. Stay tuned.