By Sara Jerome,
Florida’s largest freshwater lake is thick with toxic algae, fueling concerns that it will spread to other water bodies and sparking a debate over whether decisions by water managers helped encourage the growth of this bloom.
Scientists confirmed this month that the bloom is toxic.
“A sample taken Aug. 1 on the lake shore near the Canal Point community in Palm Beach County contained the toxin microcystin at a level of 815 parts per billion. The World Health Organization considers levels more than 10 parts per billion to be hazardous in recreational contact. By comparison, during the 2016 algae bloom in the St. Lucie River, microcystin levels reached 33,000 parts per billion at Central Marine marina in northern Stuart,” TCPalm reported.
Fears are running high because of the area’s previous experiences with algae. “Last summer, an algae bloom that started on Lake Okeechobee spread through lake water draining to the east coast — fueling a toxic, green ooze that fouled waters near Stuart,” the Sun-Sentinel reported.
Local water management practices may have contributed to the problem.
“It emerged after state officials from June 24 to July 5 pumped more than 9 billion gallons of potentially polluted water into the lake to lessen South Florida flooding threats,” the report said. “That water carried fertilizers, pesticides and other pollutants that washed off farms and urban areas into the lake, which already collects pollution draining from Central Florida.”
Water managers dispute the role pumping played in encouraging the growth of the algal bloom.
“The South Florida Water Management District disputes that emergency pumping to help reduce flooding risks south of the lake is to blame for the algae bloom. More water and pollution drains into the lake from the north than during the limited emergency pumping this summer, according to the district,” TCPalm reported.
Paul Gray, and Audubon Florida scientist, explained one take on what unfolded.
“We just put a whole bunch of nutrient-rich water into the lake,” he said. “That stuff is feeding the algae bloom.”
Polluted inflows into the lake likely helped stimulate the growth of algae.
“The water from the St. Lucie Canal picks up algae-feeding phosphorus, nitrogen and other pollutants from golf courses, farms and residential areas before draining into Lake Okeechobee. Tests of the canal water this month showed as much as two times the normal amount of phosphorus in the canal's water,” the Associated Press reported, citing the South Florida Water Management District.
To read more about reducing toxic algae visit Water Online’s Nutrient Removal Solutions Center.