When man fails, nature comes to its own rescue. Indeed it came true when the 500,000 cubic yards of rotted, dead plant life and sediment accumulated along Lake Okeechobee’s shoreline after an unprecedented drought for disposal.
The State water and wildlife managers here in Florida are taking advantage of the drought and the life-choking muck will be transported from the lake starting Thursday.
Its removal over several months will return the bottom of the lake along its southwest shoreline to a more natural sandy base creating clearer water and better habitat for plants and wildlife. This comes as a welcome news more so because of the fact that Lake Okeechobee is a backup drinking water source for millions in South Florida.
Though the drought has led to severe water restrictions across the state, it has triggered an opportunity to clean portions of the highly polluted lake, as water levels have dropped enough to expose typically submerged shoreline.
The muck, which has accumulated over all these years, is choking life from the lake’s shore. It prevents sunlight from reaching the bottom, consequently preventing fish from laying eggs and inhibiting plant growth.
Don Fox, a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said that portions of shoreline will soon see the return of wading birds, fish and native plants hitherto smothered by the thick layer of muck, which has become more of a dry, soil-like material after baking in the sun.
He said fish breeding attempts have been futile.
“When they try to lay eggs in this muck, they just sink down,”
“There’s low oxygen content and they just die.”
“The big benefit will be getting that material off the lake bottom so we can get the plant life back and restore the fisheries habitat,”
said Susan Gray, deputy executive director of watershed management for the South Florida Water Management District, which is also working on the project.
“But when you get the vegetation growing back in the lake, you also get an improved ability for the lake to absorb phosphorous.”
Audubon of Florida scientist Paul Gray described the effort as a step in the right direction, but noted,
“it’s not going to save the lake.”
Lake Okeechobee has been ailing from years of dikes, dams and diversions intended for flood control. Its main water source, the Kissimmee River, starting to the north near Orlando, was diverted in the 1960s by the Army Corps of Engineers with a 22-mile canal.
The move flushed huge amounts of water and pollution from urban runoff and agriculture into the lake. The unit is working to restore the river.
Image Credit: audubon.org