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What would discharges mean for Martin County?

People in and round Martin County are anxiously awaiting news from the army Corps of Engineers
Posted at 12:17 AM, Feb 14, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-14 00:17:37-05

MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. — People in and around Martin County are anxiously awaiting whether the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will announce discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie Estuary.

The Army Corps wouldn't comment on changes but said an announcement will be coming Wednesday.

Protecting Paradise

Army Corps considering discharges from Lake Okeechobee to St. Lucie Estuary

Cassandra Garcia
11:36 PM, Feb 13, 2024

The current water level at Lake Okeechobee is 16.38 feet, which is about 2 feet higher than they would like the lake to be ahead of the rainy season.

WPTV called the Army Corps and they couldn't comment but said an announcement would be coming Wednesday.

The Army Corps has two dams to open, which can poison Treasure Coast waters with Lake Okeechobee water that can contain pollutants and toxic algae.

In 2021, a toxic algae bloom took hold in Pahokee, forcing tourists to stay away and businesses to temporarily shut down.

The Florida Oceanographic Society and Everglades Foundation groups told WPTV that they've been in contact with the Army Corps.

"Any kind of water release to the estuaries right now, particularly going into the spawning season in March for oysters and seagrass growing season and so forth, is not good because you put too much artificial fresh water into the brackish water estuaries and it really affects those habitats," Mark Perry, the executive director and CEO of the Florida Oceanographic Society, said.

Orlando Acevedo, who was fishing at Sandsprit Park with his 12-year-old son, asked: "How long it's going to be, how much will they do it and what's the plan for the future?"

The duo said fishing is a weekly father-son tradition.

"If it impacts the water and the fish, what are we going to do?" Acevedo said.

According to the South Florida Water Management District, the rainy season for South Florida is mid-May through October, which is when the Sunshine State gets 70% of its annual rainfall.

"It's like night and day," Thomas Saporito, who was enjoying the sunset with his dog and friend Steve Keane, told WPTV about the differences in the water quality after a discharge. "You can see the bottom one day when they don't do it. The next day, it's just murky. You can't see anything."

The two would like to see the Army Corps discharge the water south.

"When are they going to finish the huge ponds that they're supposed to make to dump that stuff into?" Keane asked.

Thomas Saporito was enjoying the sunset with his dog and friend Steve Keane in Martin County. Feb. 13, 2024
Thomas Saporito was enjoying the sunset with his dog and friend Steve Keane in Martin County.

They'd also like to ask if there's going to be more water quality testing to protect those in and out of the water.

"That should be the No. 1 priority and warn people about health hazards about going in that water and eating fish from there," Saporito said.