June 27, 2009

Utter Failure - Lake Okeechobee

It is as if we said – just give us a pristine clear lake and we shall show you what we can do with it !
We mucked up that lake good. And with it the the whole of Everglades. I don’t have to use my own words for it, I will use those by Nathaniel Reed* who knows Everglades so well and knows what he is talking about:
“It is the major biological problem of the wholly excessive loadings of phosphorus that continue to pour into Lake Okeechobee. It was not many years ago that the total collapse of Lake Okeechobee due to excessive nutrient loading was considered the greatest threat to the Kissimmee-Okeechobee-Everglades system. Look where we are now:
· In recent years, the average phosphorus level in the lake was four times the goal of 40 ppb, and the highest 5-year average in history.
· Loads to the lake averaged 6 times the annual goal of 105 tons.
· More than 30,000 metric tons of phosphorus now resides near the mud surface, covering almost 300 square miles of lake bottom.
· Another estimated 190,000 metric tons of “legacy” phosphorus have been added to the Okeechobee watershed by vegetable farms, cows and citrus – people induced pollution – enough to meet the lakes annual goal of 105 tons for more than 1,800 years ! Another 6,500 tons are added every year ! Imagine ! There is more than six times as much phosphorus lurking in the feeder basins as is what is already in the lake sediments; a true Sword of Damocles !
We have a 2015 goal to reach the inflow targets – let’s stop kidding ourselves, we cannot achieve it ! How can we restore the Everglades River of Grass if the Lake Okeechobee water is so nutrient-enriched that the nutrient-limited Everglades marsh cannot accept it ? Obviously there are efforts to build cleansing cells and such, put the basic premise still has to be treat it at the source ! “
And Reed recommends the following:
1) Reduce or eliminate the continued phosphorus loadings. It is completely untenable to ask our citizens to pay billions of dollars to keep past phosphorus additions out of the lake, while allowing new ones every day. These new sources include both urban and agricultural sources.
2) While we work to stem the flow of new phosphorus, we need public works projects such as filter marshes, innovative new technologies and cooperative programs with private landowners to deal with the “legacy” material waiting to flow to the lake.
3) The massive mud “puddle” in the center of the lake needs to be restored.

Under the current circumstances, even if the watershed upstream of the lake is cleaned up – the lake is so rich in phosphorus that it will manage to contaminated every drop of water flowing through it ! And the so called farm Best Management Practices instituted as an official state policy are laughable when we condone “fertilizer application rates that are 200-400 times greater than the target runoff rates ? It may be best for the crop, but I know it is not best for the basin”, Reed concludes, adding – “I’d consider putting a BIG dredge in the middle of Lake Okeechobee – almost heresy from someone who has spent much of his life fighting dredge projects in Florida wetlands. Could the goop be used to restore depleted muck lands around Lake Okeechobee that the Water Management District is buying from US Sugar, as well as improve Lake Okeechobee ?”
I cannot help but think that he has a point there ! Now what - - ?
Alternatively, we can always pave it over too !

*(N.P. REED: currently one of the Directors of the Everglades Foundation, formerly in the SFWMD Governing Board, then with: South Florida Regional Planning Council, Florida DEP, Asst. Secretary of the Interior under Presidents Nixon and Ford, then Chairman of the Commission of the Future of Florida’s Environment - more than 40 years of top level public service).


  1. We can fly to the Moon (from not far from the Everglades) but we don't know how do handle the state of Lake Okeechobee ? Focus on the technology of removing or fixing all the phosphate in there. Otherwise, there is hardly any hope ...

  2. - the aboriginal indian tribes may be right when they basically say: "We don't want that muck (yours) downstream in the Everglades that surround us ! Clean up the water flowing downstream."