The rainy 'dry season' worries residents

Posted at 5:43 PM, Feb 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-24 17:43:23-05

The rainy "dry season" has Treasure Coast residents worried about what's to come this summer.

Water releases from Lake Okeechobee started early and strong in 2016, at a time that is typically known for being dry across the state.

On Wednesday, a weather system moved through Florida, bringing rain, lightning and tornadoes.

The news comes as billions of gallons of water from Lake Okeechobee continue to gush into local waterways each day.

Mark Perry, executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society, says the weather pattern experienced this year has him very concerned for this summer.

"If we go right into this wet, wet dry season then into a wet season in June, they could keep discharging the water through the summer," he said.

Every day, he said, at least four billion gallons of lake water flow into Treasure Coast waterways and towards the west coast of Florida as well.

In 2013, these discharges also carried algae blooms into local rivers and estuaries that were formed in Lake Okeechobee during the warmer, summer months.

But the discharges started much earlier in 2016, when waters aren't as warm, which is why Mark said we're not seeing those algae blooms.

But the Martin County Department of Health says the water has brought high levels of bacteria into local waterways.

On Wednesday, there were two advisories in place at the Roosevelt Bridge and Leighton Park due to bacteria.

The health department tests four river sites weekly and tests local beaches every other week to monitor bacteria levels.

Michael Knox of Stuart hopes the discharges will end before summer begins.

"Fishing, swimming, surfing, diving, that's what we have here. That's what makes people come to this area. When they do this and ruin that for us, they're benefiting nobody," Michael said.

He went fishing Wednesday by the St. Lucie Lock and Dam, but said he wouldn't eat anything he caught.

"Right now the snook are pretty clean. In a couple weeks they'll have sores on them. They'll be really black from all the mud coming through and changing their color," Michael said.

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, there's no telling yet when the discharges will end.

The lake level is currently at 16.05 feet.

Members of the Corps say it should ideally be between 12.5 to 15.5 feet.