Lake Okeechobee

Kate Stein / WLRN

Artist Jenna Efrein loves the Everglades. Since moving to South Florida, she's spent a lot of time exploring the ecosystem and learning about the challenges it faces. That passion -- and 10 years of gymnastics experience -- have shaped an installation of her work on display now at the Wynwood Building.

Amy Green / WMFE

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is reversing its stance and now says it must follow a schedule calling for a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee in 2021.

The corps had said it could accelerate the project aimed at improving water flow after toxic algae blooms last year prompted emergency declarations in four counties.

Colonel Jason Kirk now says the reservoir must wait.

Amy Green / WMFE

Karson Turner reaches into a grassy row of sugar cane. He grips a stalk, jointed like bamboo, and breaks it, revealing the sweetness inside.

"This will go into the mill, which you can just about see if you take about 20 steps backward you can see the smokestacks. And those get grinded, that raw sucrose that gets pushed out becomes the basis of table sugar that you and I consume all the time," says Turner. 

Amy Green / WMFE

Among the cow pastures and citrus groves of Florida's heartland north of Lake Okeechobee, patches of wetlands serve as kidneys for the Everglades.

"It filters out all of the impurities, in this case we're talking about nutrients, phosphorous in particular," says Ernie Marks of the South Florida Water Management District.

Marks steps through the grass framing the expanse of reeds and rushes. The vegetation sieves from the water the nutrient responsible for toxic algae blooms. Wading birds like egrets flap among the cabbage palms.

Kate Stein / WLRN

If you scoop a glassful of water from the heart of the Everglades, that water is as pure and clear as the water that flows from your tap.

That’s because chances are good your tap water comes from the Everglades.

One in three Floridians -- more than eight million of us -- gets drinking water from the Biscayne Aquifer a few feet below the southeastern Everglades. The ecosystem acts as a natural filter, removing excess nutrients and keeping out seawater.

Kate Stein / WLRN

Let’s start with what we’re losing: 

One of the most biologically diverse places on Earth, from sawgrass to cypress trees, apple snails to alligators. The historic home of Florida’s Miccosukee and Seminole tribes. A national park.

The ecosystem that ensures fresh drinking water for more than 8 million Floridians.

Everglades advocate Marjory Stoneman Douglas talked about all this in an interview in 1983.

South Florida Water managers heard presentations recently on their options for underground water storage. These are possible solutions to excess fresh water that sometimes fills Lake Okeechobee, leading to harmful discharges in the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers. Experts say one choice is more ideal than another.

Planning for a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee is scheduled to begin in 2021. The reservoir is crucial to restoring the Everglades, and the project could get started sooner if funding were available.

The reservoir is aimed at restoring a more natural flow of water to the Everglades. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will work with the state on the project.

Lake Okeechobee’s water level remain near a historic high after Hurricane Hermine hit Florida last week.

The state’s largest lake has been rain-swollen all year, prompting releases of excess polluted water to coastal estuaries. The influxes triggered toxic algae blooms this summer.

The Obama administration has once again refused Florida Gov. Rick Scott's request to declare a federal state of emergency because of algae blooms on the St. Lucie River.

Martin County Health Department

Florida’s Senate President-elect Joe Negron announced Tuesday he’ll seek state lawmakers’ approval for a $2.4 billion plan to store water south of Lake Okeechobee.

 

The plan would require the acquisition of about 60,000 acres of land in an area mostly occupied by sugar growers and farmers. The goal is to reduce Lake Okeechobee water outflows that have contributed to the growth of blue-green algae on Florida's east and west coasts.

The Secret Science Of Water In South Florida

Aug 4, 2016
Kate Stein / WLRN

Scientists at the South Florida Water Management District are offering a behind-the-scenes look at their work on water control and protection.

They’re having a poster exhibit at the district’s West Palm Beach headquarters. The 24 posters on display cover everything from phosphorous removal to restoration of tree islands… and yes, a lot of research that’s way more complex than that.

The algae problem in Lake Okeechobee is so bad it can be seen from space. The massive bloom continues fouling waterways on the Treasure Coast as new money is promised to help, but how would those dollars address the blue-green gunk fouling up waterways?

rushing water
Caitie Switalski / WLRN

 

South Florida was largely spared from the flooding and extra rain brought by the arrival of Tropical Storm Colin. Yet, as storm season rolls in, Lake Okeechobee’s levels – and subsequently connected waterways – are high. Where is all of that water going?

"Ultimately, the water can only go so many places,” says John Campbell, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps is in charge of managing the largest lake in Florida, Lake Okeechobee, and a major part of flood prevention in the state.

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