Air pollution concerns follow Emergency pumping into Lake Okeechobee

Lake Okeechobee

Last month, rising water levels in Broward and Dade counties prompted emergency pumping into Everglades National Park and Lake Okeechobee.

Now that the flood risks are lowered and pumping (into Lake Okeechobee) has ended, the result is a water pollution issue that threatens to spread to coastal waters. According to the South Florida Water Management District, draining continues into Everglades National Park.

Why the new pollution issue? About 9.4 billion gallons of potentially polluted water was pumped from a reservoir in southwestern Palm Beach County into Lake Okeechobee.

In western Broward and Miami-Dade counties, the pumping also risked sending fertilizers and other pollutants that wash off South Florida land into the lake.

Audubon Florida scientist Paul Gray explains, “We know a lot of stuff has gone into the lake … a lot of stuff we don’t want in the lake,” Gray monitors the health of Lake Okeechobee.

The nutrient-rich pollutants can also fuel toxic algae blooms that produce a smelly, bright green ooze that makes waterways unsafe for fishing and swimming.

Still, South Florida Water Management District spokesman Randy Smith said, the emergency pumping “the best possible alternative,” despite the pollution concerns.

Heavy rains in June pushed water levels about 2 feet higher than usual in Everglade marshes and placed natural habitats stretching through western Broward and Miami-Dade counties at risk.

The emergency pumping which bypassed the organic filtering from the source, sent the water north into the lake, where the water level remains about a foot lower than normal.

The South Florida Water Management District maintains that the water from the emergency pumping does get an initial cleaning from plants growing in the reservoir. They further state that is should not pose as high a pollution risk to the lake as has occurred during past flooding threats when water that flowed off sugar cane fields or neighborhood lawns was pumped in.

Gray said gauging the environmental effects of the emergency pumping and whether it will “spawn the harmful algae blooms,” will take more time.

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