Toxic algae could overtake Lake O; and that’s good news?

Algae on Lake Okeechobee near Port Mayaca. Photo by Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch.
Toxic algae blooms on Lake Okeechobee near Port Mayaca in this 2019 image. Photo by Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch.

It’s toxic algae season the least wonderful time of the year!

At last week’s South Florida Water Management District Governing Board meeting, District Director of Water Resources Lawrence Glenn reported that algae blooms on Lake Okeechobee are beginning to heat up. But that, he said, could actually be a good thing.

Specifically: It’s now typical to see blooms earlier in the season along the periphery of the lake, where the water is shallower and heats up faster. Blooms are starting to proliferate and “there is toxin in the water but it’s not extremely high,” Glenn said.

That situation will worsen, he predicted but as it does, the algae will feed on dissolved inorganic nitrogen in the water. And the amount of dissolved nitrogen in the water at this time of year is less than it’s been for at least four years.

So with little submerged aquatic vegetation on the periphery of the lake (most of it died off because the lake was so high for so long), there’s less competition for that nitrogen. That means the blooms will “take off,” Glenn said but could burn themselves out relatively quickly.

“We will see a full lake bloom,” Glenn said, but if the algae consumes all or most of the nitrogen, “we won’t see a full lake bloom throughout the summer.”

This could still be a concern for those on the west coast, if the “beneficial” releases to the Caloosahatchee now underway are increasingly full of algae. But if or by the time Mother Nature starts pounding Florida with summer storms, blooms on the lake may have dissipated and any discharges to the coasts would at least be relatively algae-free. Theoretically.

That’s good news, we suppose.

But it would be better news if Florida would crack down on pollution coming into the lake, and starve the blooms of the nutrients they need to explode in the first place.