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Lake Okeechobee back pumping concerns residents

Posted at 8:03 PM, Jun 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-08 05:23:54-04

The highest number of phone calls to the newsroom, the last couple of days, centers on the emergency order allowing back pumping of water into Lake Okeechobee.

The complaint is universal. People fear the water being pumped into the lake is not clean. But the South Florida Water Management District, the agency overseeing the emergency order, says they're monitoring the water quality very carefully.

This year's been a lot different than last year. In 2016, because of all the rain, discharges from Lake Okeechobee took place almost daily to reduce the lake level. In 2017, because of the drought, there are no discharges. In fact, the South Florida Water Management District is actually pumping water back into the lake from a water treatment station in Belle Glade.

“We all became alarmed that the water they're back pumping into the lake isn't clean,” said Tiffany Manzi, of Palm Springs.

Water quality is always on Manzi's mind. “We want to see, we want to know where the water is coming from,” she explained. “We want to know where they clean it. We want to know that it's clean.”

South Florida Water Management district spokesman Randy Smith says the water pumping into Lake O is clean.

“We've got monitors that are showing that the water is actually cleaner than the water is in Lake Okeechobee now,” explained Smith.

The method: similar to storm water treatment areas, there's natural vegetation in the reservoir that feeds off phosphorous. “Which is the main nutrient that gets everyone the most concerned,” explained Smith. “Plants are able to extract the phosphorous out of the water. This is what they live on and once they do that the quality of the water has improved.”

For Manzi, this is a haunting reminder of last year's algae bloom. ”I want the whole lake problem to be resolved,” she said.

The back pumping is being done to protect wildlife and vegetation in the Everglades.