Audubon Florida News

Bold Steps Needed For A Healthy Lake Okeechobee

Lake Okeechobee as seen by NASAAudubon is working hard to improve the water quality of Lake Okeechobee.  Recently the Department of Environmental Protection began its interactive stakeholder process to formulate a new plan, known as a Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP), to improve Lake Okeechobee’s water quality. Our Audubon Florida team was there at the kickoff meeting in Okeechobee advocating for bold steps to reverse the trend of continued degradation of water quality in Northern Everglades watershed.

Large amounts of phosphorus in the Lake are linked to the increased possibility of blue green algae blooms. It can also contribute to the accelerated growth of vegetation like cattails that block navigation and damage wildlife habitat in the Lake’s marsh.

SNKI2 Larry FroggeIn 2001, Florida established a water quality goal for Lake Okeechobee that set a maximum level of phosphorus entering Lake Okeechobee – a target to be met by 2015. Today the Lake’s water quality is not on a trajectory toward meeting the goal.  Recent averages of phosphorus flowing into the Lake are three to six times the state’s water quality goal.  The state has designed numerous plans to clean the water entering Lake Okeechobee over the past few decades, but these plans have not resulted in significant reductions.

Audubon is urging the state agencies in charge of Lake Okeechobee’s water quality- the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS), and South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), to make the most out of the BMAP process to significantly improve the Lake’s water quality.  What the agencies will propose during the process is not decided yet and the process is open to public input.

At the meeting,  Audubon advocated for the agencies to update incentive programs for agriculture in the Okeechobee watershed, known as best management practices (BMPs), to significantly reduce the amount of phosphorus from fertilizer and animal feed added to the watershed. Audubon urged DACS  to work with environmental groups and landowners to seek adequate additional funds from the Florida Legislature to aid landowners in installing structural water management improvements that would hold more water on the land, encourage water reuse, and reduce phosphorus discharges.

Paul and DecoyAudubon also stated concern about the lack of documentation of “Class AA biosolids” (human sewage sludge) still allowed to be used as fertilizer in the Northern Everglades basin. DACS personnel indicated they had no way of measuring just how much of this phosphorus laden material is still being spread on farms in the watershed.

We look forward to continuing to speak with agencies to improve Lake Okeechobee’s water quality.  For more information on Audubon’s strategy to clean the water flowing into Lake Okeechobee, read Audubon’s position paper and Restore article . Check back here for updates on how you can take action to  protect the liquid heart of the Everglades.

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