John Campbell is a guide on Lake Okeechobee who has fished the waters for more than 50 years. He told me on a recent outing, “We are having some of the best fishing we have had in many, many years.”
Restoration of the Kissimmee River that feeds the lake has given Campbell a far different view than the algae filled one in the nightmares of Treasure Coast residents.
“The press right now,” Campbell said, “is solely directed at Lake Okeechobee producing this situation. In my humble opinion, I think there is more to it than that.”
Tara Bardi says he is right. She is the senior scientist for the Arthur Marshall Foundation for the Everglades. Make no mistake, she thinks the huge outflows from Lake Okeechobee are part of the problem.
Bardi said, “The outflows dumping cyanobacteria in the two estuaries is fed by legacy phosphorous and nutrients in the lake, coming from the Kissimmee basin north, or back pumped form the south…but (is) not the only villain in this game.”
Bardi noted that other culprits include urban, neighborhood and farm fertilizer runoff—all of that is feeding the algae bloom too.
Bardi said, “We are all going to have to participate in managing our surface water runoff, properly maintain septic tanks, managing fertilizer, best management practices on the farms.”
Water flows into Lake Okeechobee from the Kissimmee River basin to the north. Nature once sent that water south into the Everglades before man built canals and floodgates to tame it.
Agricultural interests -- including the sugar industry -- have resisted efforts to buy land needed to help restore the natural flow of water.
Bardi ticked off the to do list. She said, “We need to shore up the dike and get that done, buy the land, build a reservoir, and we need to build storm water treatment areas.”
However, even if the political will, money and land all came together it would not end the competing interests at the heart of the balancing act in this huge water system. Bardi offered this perspective.
She said, “Even a modern dike(around Lake O) that would allow water to be higher would not be an altogether good thing for the lake. If you have the water too high you have no fisheries, you have nowhere for the fish to live, nowhere for the fish to lay their eggs, nowhere for the wading birds.”
John Campbell, our guide on the water, is no scientist but figures he knows nature pretty well around here. His opinion is to send the water south.
Campbell said, “I think pushing it south is the way nature created this lake, and I think when man injects his thinking it is not always right. I don’t think God makes mistakes when he makes river systems.”
Fixing human mistakes is the ongoing challenge now, and one in which all of us have a stake in the course being charted for the future.