Rivers Coalition: Lake Okeechobee water release poison for St. Lucie River

STUART, Fla. - The Army Corps of Engineers release of millions of gallons of water from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie Canal is worrying those who preserve and restore the St. Lucie River.

Since about 7 Wednesday morning the water has been flowing into the St. Lucie Canal and ultimately into the river.

A river that is used by many different fishermen and women.

Some come into the Snook Nook Bait and Tackle Shop daily before a day on the water.

"It's disappointing," Henry Ciamotto of the Snook Nook said about the choice to release water. "I have been here for years. I just know that this is the beginning of a real forest fire."

Leon Abood of the Rivers Coalition in Stuart said this move is "poison" for the river.

It kills the oysters, seagrass and stops spawning," Abood said. "It not only hurts the environment not only hurts the river but it also hurts our economy also."

Ciamotto said it turns what is now a saltwater river into a freshwater river, which runs out the saltwater fish.

"Those fishing at the Roosevelt Bridge... they're going to have to leave," he said. "Those fishing at the Palm City Bridge... they're going to have to leave."

What's next is bad for his business, Ciamotto said.

"There's no rocket science here. If they can't fish they're not coming here," Ciamotto said.

Residual rains from Tropical Storm Isaac prompted this move.

The Army Corps of Engineers says about a month ago the lake level was about 12.2 feet, but now is about 15.1 feet.

"It has been rising very rapidly and we want to mitigate that a little bit," John Campbell with the Army Corps of Engineers said.

In an effort to ease pressure on the aging dike, the Army Corps will pump about 581 million gallons of water into the St. Lucie Canal each day, Campbell said.

Many who worry about the river wonder how long the release will go on.

"It's hard to say at this point and a lot of that is weather dependent. when rain falls and how much falls when it does fall," Campbell said.

Without a concrete answer, concerns continue to grow about what's next for the river.

"We're always worried about it until we can move the water south of Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades area," Abood said.

The Martin County Health Department says as of now the release poses no health risks to the St. Lucie River.

Abood worries if the release continues for a long time that it will make the river unusable and unsafe for swimmers.

That's something they say has happened before.

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