NewsProtecting Paradise


U.S. Army Corps eyes high water levels on Lake Okeechobee amid algae issues

Col. Andrew Kelly calls Pahokee Marina algae bloom 'typical'
Algae at Pahokee Marina on April 30, 2021
Posted at 3:00 PM, Apr 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-30 18:38:48-04

PAHOKEE, Fla. — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers held a telephone conference call with reporters Friday regarding water management for Lake Okeechobee and South Florida.

The briefing comes after a health alert was issued Wednesday for high levels of toxic blue-green algae at the Pahokee Marina.

Crews wearing hazmat suits have been busy this week removing the algae from the marina.

Phase two of the cleanup began Friday, which entails sucking up the algae, separating it, treating the water and putting the water back into Lake Okeechobee.

Toxic algae at the Pahokee Marina on April 30, 2021
Toxic algae at the Pahokee Marina on April 30, 2021.

Col. Andrew Kelly called the algae bloom in Lake Okeechobee "typical" for this time of year.

During the conference call with reporters, Kelly called the Pahokee situation a localized bloom that is something to watch, but his eyes are more on all of Lake Okeechobee.

The lake is 2.5 feet higher than at this time last year.

At this point, Kelly said he is taking a cautious approach and not releasing any water to the east.

Health alert sign posted at the Pahokee Marina on April 30, 2021, due to toxic algae
A sample taken April 26, 2021, at the Pahokee Marina showed the toxicity levels in the algae are more than 100 times the health advisory limit of 8 parts per billion, prompting a health alert.

Concerns have been raised in Stuart and Martin County about releasing any water contaminated with algae into the St. Lucie River to ease the lake level.

The Army Corps said the lake level will keep decreasing, and so will the chances of any water releases to the east.

"We're in constant communication with the Corps of Engineers to help them understand where the algae is and what the condition is, and they are certainly using that as a decision criteria on whether to release the lake or not, and that's just a constant communication," said Drew Bartlett with the South Florida Water Management District.

The colonel also admitted algae is a big player in the decision to release water, and they are in constant contact with local officials.

Kelly said they are talking daily with South Florida Water Management officials.

However, Kelly said once the rains raise the Lake Okeechobee, his first priority becomes easing the pressure on the dikes through water releases.

Resident Rogeleo Flores rated the bad smell in Pahokee an eight of 10.

"It smells bad. Sometimes I get outside, and when I feel it smells too bad ... I go back [inside] to my air conditioner," Flores said.

The entrance to the marina has been blocked off as a precaution. All activity around the marina is stopped while cleanup crews work to remove the toxic mess.

Tests show the algae is more than 100 times higher than acceptable limits. Researches say it is unclear if it's unsafe to be breathing it.

Crews said it could take several days before the cleanup wraps up at the marina.