Lake Okeechobee water releases start

Posted at 5:59 PM, Feb 05, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-05 17:59:25-05

PAHOKEE, Fla-- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has started the maximum release of water from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie Estuary.

Heavy winter rainfall and back pumping have the lake rising above 16 feet, and any more could put the dike at risk.

“It’s not just them being affected by the high waters,” said Former Pahokee Mayor James Sasser.

Sasser says their dike in Pahokee has been restored for the most part, but the water levels are still too high and it still poses risks for them.

“If the level of lake continues to rise this time of year, I’m more concerned about the ecological damage inside the lake. If it were in the middle of hurricane season and the lake was this high, then I would be very concerned,” said Sasser.

But for residents in Martin County the amount of fresh water released into their saltwater estuary can have a toxic impact, and that is still fresh in their minds.

“When they say discharge. I see dead dolphins. I see dead birds. I see dead fish,” said one protester Friday morning.

The last time the Army Corps of Engineers released this amount of water from Lake Okeechobee was in 2013. Martin County did see an impact on tourism and its local economy as a result.

Sasser says he believes Lake Okeechobee gets an unfair reputation for pollution and water levels, but he says he thinks the issue needs to be addressed from the north.