Toxic water: Army Corps to open gates wider on Saturday

Lake Okeechobee levels rising with recent rain

STUART, Fla. - The gates were scheduled to open wider at the St. Lucie Lock and Dam on Saturday morning. The move is reversing a recent trend and renewing worries about Lake Okeechobee discharges choking the Treasure Coast environment and economy.

The Army Corps of Engineers announced it would begin releasing millions of additional gallons of water from the lake by 7 a.m. Saturday.

Some experts say more toxic algae would likely come with it. That, they say, is a dangerous case of deja vu.

"We started to see the algae blooms diminish in the estuary, but now we can expect to come back," said Mark

Perry, Executive Director of the Florida Oceanographic Society. "People are not going to be allowed to go into the water. It's affecting businesses."

Above average rainfall this month is pushing levels at Lake Okeechobee too high. Levels that go up, must come down, the Corps wrote in statement on Friday.

Businesses like Basilio Aviles' bait and tackle shop in Port Salerno has already been impacted by the environmental crisis.

"We're losing a lot of businesses," Aviles. "We're losing a lot of customers."

Now, this business owner is reacting to word that an environment and an economy that has been hit hard could get hit again. "People feel very disappointed about the whole ordeal," he said.

Perry says with lake water and runoff combined, the Corps' discharges could go from about 900 million gallons a day to about 1.2 billion gallons daily. He says that water could come the toxic algae and the protest that the Treasure Coast saw just a few weeks ago.

"They're going to be fired up again and just be more irate," said Perry.

It is unclear how long the additional releases will be in effect. That, the Army Corps says, all depends on rainfall averages and the levels of Lake Okeechobee.

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