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Army Corps of Engineers Releases Water from Lake Okeechobee

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The Army Corps of Engineers is releasing water from Lake Okeechobee to reduce its water level.

These releases impact the estuaries downstream in the Caloosahatchee River to the west and the St. Lucie to the east.

Lee County Natural Resources Manager Kurt Harclerode said extra fresh water alters salinity levels in the estuary, which can be harmful to marine plants and animals. Nutrients carried by the water can also spur algal blooms.

“When there is too much water- too much fresh water - that can have harmful impacts on your marine organisms, your cape grasses, your oysters,” Harclerode said. “That entire marine environment can be thrown out of kilter.”

The Corps releases water from the lake throughout the year. Harclerode said the water is moved out of the lake according to a  “pulse” schedule. If heavy storms are forecast, the Corps will release additional water.

“What a pulse schedule is setup to do is mimic a natural event,” Harclerode said. “So, it may start out on the low end in that seven day period then build up and then come back down so you’re not having just one slug or a continuous slug of water.”

Harclerode’s team monitors how the additional fresh water affects organisms in the Caloosahatchee River.

“Salinity is one of the barometers we use to measure the health of the estuary because we know what types of organism can exist in certain salinity regiments,” said Harclerode.

So far, Harclerode said salinity levels are deteriorating around of the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River.

Topher is a reporter at WGCU News.