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Concerns grow over looming Lake Okeechobee discharges

Army Corps to hold conference call Thursday
Posted at 4:49 PM, Sep 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-23 17:43:42-04

STUART, Fla. — While freshwater discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie River did not mark the summer of 2020, the Army Corps of Engineers has said water releases are imminent partly due to the current lake level.

That has many people holding out hope that the Corps will change its mind.

At the Stuart Angler Bait and Tackle shop, Giles Murphy said business has been profitable.

"The last few years, we've been really, really lucky," Murphy said. "I've seen the sales go up, up, up."

Murphy thinks it helps that people look for outdoor activities, like fishing, during the coronavirus pandemic.

"[It is] just a nice state of mind to have clear fishing water," he said.

The fishing boat captain said water quality is crucial to him, and he is hoping water from Lake Okeechobee isn't sent east.

"Cross our fingers for (no discharges) during our busy season not to get ruined by rainfall and Okeechobee discharges," Murphy said.

Mike Conner Indian Riverkeeper
Indian Riverkeeper Mike Conner hopes the Army Corps with pause their thoughts of possibly releasing freshwater into the St. Lucie River.

Even without lake water, Indian Riverkeeper Mike Conner said the St. Lucie Estuary is already receiving freshwater from the canals and tributaries.

This water is also filled with nutrients that can create a favorable environment for algae blooms, so he hopes the Army Corps will pause discharges.

"Right now, I wish they'd hold back, take the finger off the trigger and let evaporation happen. The lake at 15 feet 2 inches is not that bad for the lake," said Conner.

U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., sent a letter to the Corps Tuesday asking for a delay in the releases.

On Thursday, Mast and members of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management Disctrict are taking part in a hearing in Washington, D.C. WPTV was told that the Army Corps was invited to participate but is not attending.

The Corps is holding their own conference call about the lake later in the day Thursday.