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One Florida Foundation: Lack of Lake Okeechobee releases highlights other contaminants in the St. Lucie Estuary

Posted at 11:43 PM, Sep 17, 2019

MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. -- The Army Corps of Engineers has held off all summer from releasing Lake Okeechobee water into the St. Lucie Estuary.

As a result, local water advocates say we are getting a clearer look at the impacts of other pollutants in the river, and what they do to the water when Lake Okeechobee releases are not in the mix.

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There is no denying that the quality of the water in the St. Lucie Estuary this year is improved from 2018 when toxic blue-green algae plagued the river.

“We have arguably had one of the most average years as far as rainfall goes in South Florida,” said Nyla Pipes, Executive Director of the One Florida Foundation.

That has helped reduce the need for the Army Corps to release water to the east and west, “...which has allowed for us to go ahead and lower the lake a little more ahead of the wet season, keep us from having those lake Okeechobee releases. But, what it’s also done since we’ve had no lake Okeechobee releases, it shows them what their backyard really looks like without that extra input,” Pipes explained.

Pipes shared a drone video showing contrast in the water quality near the St. Lucie Inlet after Hurricane Dorian.

“I see that Dorian has stirred everything up,” Pipes said, which might contribute to some darker water.

However, the video shows a distinct line between brown water and clearer, blue water.

"When fresh water hits saltwater, there is a tidal line you can see, but it isn’t typically this brown yahoo chocolate milk," Pipes said.

She feels the video helps show that there is more posing a threat to water quality than just Lake Okeechobee releases.

Legacy pollution can get stirred back up. Local runoff is always a concern, carrying nutrients or pollutants that do not help water quality.

She is also passionate about converting septic systems to sewer, as just one more way to prevent possible pollution.

"The more we can do in our own backyards the better off we are because we don’t have to fight for all of that federal funding," Pipes said.

"It’s back to every drop counts, and so we’ve got to do better."