NewsProtecting Paradise


Early algae blooms cause growing concern for Treasure Coast residents

'Our state agencies have absolutely failed us, and it's just a shame,' Nicole Mader says
Posted at 4:50 PM, Apr 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-19 18:02:19-04

STUART, Fla. — A rainy week is expected in South Florida, and that's making some advocates for clean water nervous.

Bright green algae blooms are already popping up in Lake Okeechobee and more rain elevates the risk for freshwater releases into the St. Lucie Estuary.

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Lake Okeechobee is currently at 14.17 feet.

The sight of bright green, toxic algae blooms, fueled by freshwater, heat and nutrients from farmlands and fertilizers, is something that Treasure Coast residents have learned to dread.

Heath advisories were issued this month for the area around both the St. Lucie and Port Mayaca locks.

Indian Riverkeeper Executive Director Mike Connor visited the lake Sunday, finding streaks of algae across the surface of the lake, and algae collecting near the shoreline.

"It's starting to get cakey," Connor said. "Every time a boat goes through the lock to transfer to the canal, it gets this [algae]."

The algae is also showing up in the C-44 canal, according to Connor.

"I hope we don't get a whole lot of rain from this week coming. We're supposed to get locally 3-5 inches locally north of the lake, which is not good," Connor said.

The Army Corps of Engineers is not currently releasing any lake water into the St. Lucie Estuary, and Connor hopes the lake will not rise to a level where that has to occur.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection said last week that algae blooms at the Lake Okeechobee S308C structure in Martin County tested positive for microcystis at 22 parts per billion, nearly three times the health advisory limit of 8 parts per billion, established by the EPA.

Nicole Mader, director with RiverKidz
Nicole Mader is angered by the water issues that continue to plague the Treasure Coast.

The levels grabbed the attention of Nicole Mader, a director with RiverKidz.

"It makes me feel angry because I just feel like our state agencies have absolutely failed us and it’s just a shame," Mader said.

She has spent a decade with the group, fighting for clean water.

"This river’s in trouble and we knew it back in 2011," Mader said.

Every time toxic algae returns, she’s reminded of how much work there is still to do.

"They talked to politicians, they did protests, they did all kinds of river projects and they really spoke out," Mader said.

The Army Corps of Engineers is monitoring lake levels, and algae blooms play a part in their decision on whether to discharge water from the lake into the river.

U.S Rep. Brian Mast has been trying to ban the Army Corps of Engineers from releasing algae blooms into the St. Lucie Estuary when they test for toxin levels above the health advisory limit.

"For decades, the Army Corps of Engineers has poisoned our community with water laden with algal blooms far more toxic than the EPA considers safe for human contact. If the Corps were discharging right now, they'd be poisoning us again. No Floridian should tolerate being poisoned by their government," Mast said. "The Corps has determined that discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie [River] are unnecessary for flood control and that eliminating these discharges can be beneficial to water supply, the environment and more. They must not settle for incremental progress but rather should take the bold action needed to protect Floridians and stop government-sanctioned poisoning."