Army Corps to begin pumping Lake Okeechobee

Port Mayaca Lock and Dam in Lake Okeechobee in 2013.
Port Mayaca Lock and Dam in Lake Okeechobee in 2013. AP

With a wetter-than-normal dry season predicted, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Thursday that it would begin releasing water from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie River, raising concerns that the polluted water could trigger toxic algae blooms.

Forecasters predict that an El Niño weather pattern could form, bringing more rain in a time of year when water managers usually expect levels of the lake to recede. In a press conference Thursday, Lt. Col. Tom Greco said the agency has been steadily moving water out of the lake, pumping it south and west down the Caloosahatchee River. But levels remain higher than needed. So the Corps plans to do smaller releases over time to prevent the need for larger releases later.

Levels of the lake are currently about where they were in the summer of 2013, when water released from the swollen lake triggered massive algae blooms and fish kills.

“We understand it’s going to be wetter, so we know we need to take action now,” Greco said.

The move prompted Gov. Rick Scott to urge the Corps to move faster on Everglades restoration work and repairing the aging dike that surrounds the lake.

“The discharges from Lake Okeechobee in 2013, and the resulting harm to our estuaries, serve as a major signal that we must accelerate work on the restoration projects needed to safeguard South Florida’s waters,” Scott said in a statement.