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Water quality continues to improve

By Staff | May 11, 2016

The clarity of the waters surrounding Sanibel Island continue to see improvements as less flow is released from Lake Okeechobee.

James Evans, director of natural resources, said as of Monday, May 2, the elevation of Lake Okeechobee was 14.15 feet, dropping approximately .93 feet during the past month. He said as long as the dry conditions persist, the lake should be at 13 1/2 feet by June 1, which should put them in a good position going into the rainy season.

“There’s different weather patterns that are starting to form. The water managers are really focusing on a potential strengthening La Nina pattern and that could mean a drier wet season,” Evans said. “Obviously as we move into the raining season with a drier pattern, there could be some concerns about water supply. It’s the balance between getting water out of the lake, but not too much water to make sure we have water for dry seasons flows next fall and winter and having water supply for the Everglades agricultural area and other parts of the system.”

Because of the drier conditions in April, the Corps have been steadily cutting back on the release of Lake Okeechobee. On April 22, they reduced the pulse release from 3,000 to 2,500 CFS. On April 29, further reductions were made from 2,500 to 2,000 CFS.

“If you have noticed driving across the causeway the water is getting quite clear out there and along our gulf beaches are really starting to clear up,” Evans said, which is great.

He said although the target flows are around 2,000 CFS, they are seeing slightly higher average flows. Evans said the flows are closer to 2,700 CFS, so it is surprising that the water is as clear as it is out in the bay right now.

He said about 90 percent of the water they are receiving right now is coming from the lake because there is no rainfall in the watershed. With the improved water clarity, he said they are seeing better salinity, which in turn is helping the oyster beds and sea grass.

Mayor Kevin Ruane said they have divided responsibilities among the council to talk about water quality. He said the “white paper” talks about what they would like and what is necessary, all science based and adopted by Florida entities.

Vice Mayor Mick Denham said one of the misunderstandings is that even if they could completely stop the flows from Lake Okeechobee coming down the Caloosahatchee they would still get some issues with water in the estuaries that they do not want. He said they get a good amount of water from the Caloosahatchee Basin when there is a rain event.

“If we were to stop flows from Lake Okeechobee we would still get flows from the Caloosahatchee Basin. A flow way south is part of the solution. I think calling the flow way south is an incorrect statement. It really should be described as a storage treatment and convenance system,” he said. “That would be part of the solution, but not the complete solution.”

Ruane said their job is to be advocates and educate people.

A revised draft of the “white paper” will be put on the agenda for consideration in June.

Follow Meghan @IslanderMeghan on Twitter.