Our beaches and the quality of our gulf water is a major draw to our area, tourism is affected by releases from Lake Okeechobee and the algae blooms that usually follow. In General our area was spared from the devastation that could have been from this storm and until the reservoir that was approved back in April is completed, we will have to deal with these releases and see how the aftermath of Hurricane Irma will continue to affect our area.
The South Florida Water Management District considers protection and improvement of the Caloosahatchee watershed an agency priority. Rain or lack of it affects the river, water releases from Lake Okeechobee when we have too much rain as we are now experiencing can add too much fresh water and lack of rain like we had over the winter can make the river too salty, killing off sea grasses and other plant, animal and fish life.
The Army Corps of Engineers decided to and released water into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie to keep lake Okeechobee levels low before Hurricane Irma came to our area, scientist say that up to 300 million gallons ran down the river in Irma’s wake washing most of the estuary out into the Gulf.
In the past, Rain water just sat on the landscape, but now too many wetlands in Lee County have been converted to development. "You have more of your water running off instead of staying in wetlands, then (these events are) going to be worse," said. Rick Bartleson, a water quality scientist at the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation on Sanibel. "now we’re down to about 10 percent wetlands in Lee County. That’s where the water used to go before it slowly came into the estuary." Said Bartleson, "What extra water does is it makes the freshwater go further out into the Gulf."
“The challenges with high water that we saw on the Caloosahatchee last week have subsided,” said Col. Jason Kirk, commander of the Corps' Jacksonville office.adding “Starting releases from the lake now will help slow the rise so we can retain as much storage as possible in the lake for future precipitation events.” so this past Tuesday, the Corps has decided to release more water from Lake O, up to 4,000 cubic feet per second!
Only time will tell how our coastline and gulf waters will weather the aftermath of this storm.