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Feelings about Lake Okeechobee water discharges mixed

Those along Treasure Coast concerned about health of waterways, while those near lake concerned about flooding
Posted at 7:36 AM, Feb 18, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-18 07:36:15-05

PORT SALERNO, Fla. — At site of the former Twisted Tuna in Port Salerno is the newly opened 2 Georges Bar & Grill.

"We're excited for a lot of changes that are about to be happening real soon," Melven Barrera, one of the front-of-the-house managers for 2 Georges, said Saturday.

He said that the restaurant and other establishments heavily rely on the waterway for the views and fresh seafood.

Melven Barrera, manager of 2 Georges Bar & Grill, speaks about Lake Okeechobee water releases
Melven Barrera, who is a front-of-the-house manager at the new 2 Georges Bar & Grill in Port Salerno, recognizes the importance of the Lake Okeechobee water releases and its impact on business along the Treasure Coast.

Barrera said he's now keeping his fingers crossed after hearing that up to a billion gallons of water are to be discharged from Lake Okeechobee daily.
"Are you worried about how that's going to impact you?" WPTV reporter Joel Lopez asked.

"That's actually always a topic of discussion on a regular basis, not only with the staff here but with the regulars that show up," Barrera said. "It has to go somewhere, I get that, but then on the other hand, it'll affect not only the wildlife, not just us as a community but all along the Treasure Coast as well."

Staff said they're in the process of renovating the establishment, delivering quality food and entertainment to Port Salerno, despite the impacts of the discharge.

"It's very upsetting to the inland waterway especially. It turns the water brown," boater Eric Holmes, captain of the Fish Hog, said. "These waterways used to be pristine, grass growing, a lot of inshore fishing, and it's really ruined a lot of that, unfortunately."

The two-man team said their business entirely operates on the water and depends on both fish and tourism to make a living.

Joel Lopez speaks to Fish Hog boaters about Lake Okeechobee water releases
WPTV's Joel Lopez speaks to Fish Hog captain Eric Holmes (left) and deckhand Domenic Cariani about the poor water quality they say is caused by Lake Okeechobee's water releases.

"In your history when they start doing the discharges, how quickly do you see a difference?" asked Lopez.

"You can see it right out the inlet. You know when they're pumping it out or when it's overflowing because you see that dirty water – out two miles, you'll see a big pool of it," deckhand Domenic Cariani said. "It's killing fish. It's killing marine life. It's killing animals. The water quality is not right."

As of Friday, the US Army Corps of Engineers reported that the lake levels at Lake Okeechobee were at 16.33.

That amount has caused flooding concerns for people who live in Belle Glade, just south of Lake Okeechobee.

"It was a beautiful lake at one time," resident Jerry Godale said.

Jerry Godale in favor of Lake Okeechobee water releases
Jerry Godale thinks the water releases from Lake Okeechobee are good for the lake.

For Godale, the lake has seen a decrease in its grass beds and wildlife and hopes the discharges can help restore the ecosystem in Lake Okeechobee.

"The lake gets a chance to breathe, to grow its grass," he said.