Friday, 22 December 2006 00:00
ReleasesWritten by Mike Kiniry
Water managers are releasing low levels of fresh water from Lake Okeechobee down the Caloosahatchee. Lee County officials requested the releases for environmental reasons…it’s a move that highlights a difficult quest to strike a watery balance.
The low level releases help reduce salinity in the Caloosahatchee Estuary, which has being raised by saltwater intrusion. South Florida Water Management District officials say these ‘dry season’ releases are a great example of the challenges they face balancing inland and coastal needs.
Deputy Director with the watershed management department at the District – Susan Gray – says the lake serves many purposes…and that the estuaries struggle between too little water during the dry times, and too much during the wet ones.
“In balancing all the water supply needs of the system, not only for irrigation or potable water supply there’s an environmental need. And our board agreed to a low level amount of water being released from the lake to the Caloosahatchee in order to protect some of the sea grasses that are in the upper estuary.”
Farmers near the lake say the releases could hurt winter crops, which are struggling through one of the worst droughts in nearly 75 years.
Lee County officials – and environmental advocates – often complain about too much fresh water being released from Lake Okeechobee during the wet season. Because the nutrient-rich water not only upsets the salinity in the estuary, but also contributes to algae blooms. The releases will continue until at least the middle of January.
Fresh water from Lake Okeechobee is being released down the Caloosahatchee River for environmental reasons.
Lee County officials asked the South Florida Water Management District for the releases in order to combat saltwater intrusion into the estuary.
Chief Environmental Scientist with the District - Peter Doering – says they the request came after salinity levels at the I-75 Bridge reached a critical level.
“In that region of the estuary we have a salt sensitive plant which is called tape grass…and it provides habitat for blue crabs and fish and so forth, and it likes the salinity to be relatively low or it doesn’t grow well.”
Doering says the grass is a key spawning area for marine creates in the Spring.
Releases this time of the year aren’t common – but aren’t unheard of either…there was a similar release last year. Doering says they’ll continue through at least January 16th…after which they’ll re-evaluate to see if they need to continue.