Brace for Toxic Tsunami when Lake Okeechobee discharges resume Monday | Ed Killer

Ed Killer, Treasure Coast NewspapersPublished 5:18 p.m. ET July 6, 2018 | Updated 9:17 a.m. ET July 9, 2018

Note: Marco Rubio asked the Trump administration to “re-evaluate” Lake Okeechobee discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers. 

In a letter sent to President Donald Trump on Sunday, July 8, Rubio asked Trump to urge the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to start considering the “impacts of harmful algal blooms and poor water quality” on downstream communities while they plan and conduct the discharges. 

By Sunday evening, the Corps decided to suspend flows from Lake Okeechobee.

"It crawls. ... It creeps. ... It eats you alive!"

"Indescribable ... Insatiable ... Indestructible! Nothing Can Stop It!"

These were the taglines for the 1958 Steve McQueen movie "The Blob." But it could just as easily be the tagline for the Summer of 2018 in Florida's Martin and Lee counties.

The blue-green algae has taken over Lake Okeechobee. It has eaten it alive. Literally.

Right now, almost all of the lake's 730 square miles are smothered by it. In some places, it drifts in windrows. In others, it clings to shorelines and islands of bulrushes and spike rush and Kissimmee grass. Pahokee Marina is clogged with it, although officials won't let anyone near it.

Lake Okeechobee on June 29, 2018 is mostly covered by a cyanobacteria bloom according to a satellite image from NOAA, derived from Copernicus Sentinel-3 data from

Satellite images show nearly all of Lake Okeechobee covered in algae

It's everywhere

The algae also is covering some 70 miles of the Caloosahatchee River watershed and is clearly visible in the St. Lucie Canal — the C-44, as water managers call it. There is 27 miles of algae from Port Mayaca to the St. Lucie Lock and Dam out in Tropical Farms.

The algae is ever present, and appears to be strengthening. From aerial photographs, it looks like it is literally trying to eat Florida from the middle out to the sides.

Recent aerial photographic journeys by TCPalm photojournalists Leah Voss and Eric Hasert show as much. Voss flew the canal and eastern portion of the lake Thursday, capturing stark images of the algae as it lie in wait like a predator waiting to spring on an unsuspecting victim.

Cattle wades in the algae-covered C-44 Canal on Thursday, July 5, 2018. Based on satellite images, researchers with NOAA estimate that 90 percent of the 730-square-mile freshwater Lake Okeechobee is covered in algae, proven to be toxic with microcystin through tests conducted by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Since June 1, about 25 billion gallons of Lake Okeechobee water has been discharged from the gates at the St. Lucie Lock and Dam into the St. Lucie River, concerning residents and damaging local businesses.

Otto Herrera, of Royal Palm Beach, takes a closer look at the algae from shore at Lake Okeechobee on Friday, June 29, 2018, at Port Mayaca. Herrera, who said he has lived in Florida since he was 12 years old and had never seen the lake, was traveling from Bradenton with a friend who suggested the detour. "I'm surprised about the green stuff," Herrera said. "I was hoping to see a beautiful lake, but the green … it was kind of disappointing, you know." Discharges from the lake to the St. Lucie River were starting to be reduced Friday, with a complete stop for nine consecutive days then resuming in pulses indefinitely, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.  XAVIER MASCAREÑAS/TCPALM

Toxic Tsunami

Treasure Coast residents, be prepared for the Toxic Tsunami.

The Army Corps of Engineers plans to crack open the floodgates at Port Mayaca Monday. While the gates have been closed for the past nine days, the welcome but brief break is almost over. The Corps will proceed with its plan to again begin lowering the level of the water in Lake Okeechobee, regardless of what's floating on it or in it.

The big farce is lowering Lake Okeechobee is all in the name of public safety. I guess it depends on which public the Army Corps considers it is keeping safe.

That has been the biggest problem for the past 80-plus years. This system of lopsided water management has favored one populous over another like two ends of a sick, twisted seesaw.

The Glades communities benefit from dry feet and security the Herbert Hoover Dike will not coming crashing down in a tidal wave of dirty water. Meanwhile, the coastal estuaries, and all the businesses and livelihoods tied to clean water, get dumped on to try to survive in a flood of toxic water and now — for the third time since 2013, and fourth time in 13 years — toxic algae, too.

Southern Treasure Coast residents have been talking on social media about Monday as if it's the day the volcano will explode. And they are right. We don't actually know how bad it is going to be. We don't actually know how bad the algae can be for us. We don't have answers to dozens of serious questions about health impacts, quality of life issues or what these repeated events are doing to fragile and complicated ecosystems.

But we're told the lake has to come down nearly 2 feet to keep the dike safe should a tropical system drift across the center of the Sunshine State. Which brings me to Beryl.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson talks toxic discharges into IRL in Stuart

Senior U.S. Senator for Florida Bill Nelson discusses toxic discharges in local waterways and ways to stop them Thursday, July 5, 2018, with city, county, and state officials, ecological and medical experts, and local business owners and residents during a public meeting at Stuart City Hall in downtown Stuart.  JEREMIAH WILSON/TCPALM

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson talks toxic discharges into IRL in Stuart

The old girl sure spun up into a Category 1 hurricane within 12 hours of at least one meteorologist claiming it wouldn't strengthen much. Granted, Beryl is meandering across the open Southern Caribbean this weekend, but we're in that time of year. And the Army Corps isn't an agency that will take any chances.

If a tropical system comes anywhere near Florida, you can bet dollars to doughnuts those gates will be opened wider and wider until lake levels are lowered. It only takes a few inches of rainfall in the Kissimmee River Basin to raise the lake a foot or two.

The Corps strives to keep it close to 12.5 feet when hurricane season begins so it won't get up past 15.5 feet by Nov. 30. Anything higher could spell trouble for the dike, the Corps has explained.

So be ready for the Toxic Tsunami. It's coming Monday, ready or not, and like it or not.


Sunday: Stop the Toxic Algae protest begins at 4 p.m. at Phipps Park Campground, 2175 S.W. Locks Road, Stuart. Information: #toxic18 Facebook group page.

July 17: Toxic Puzzle, a film about researchers' work on toxic algae, including the 2016 bloom. Also, a panel discussion. Location: StarStruck Performing Arts Theater, 2101 S.W. Kanner Highway, Stuart. Seating is limited. Tickets are $5. Information: #toxic18 Facebook group page.

Ed Killer is the outdoors columnist for Treasure Coast Newspapers and, and this column reflects his opinion. Friend him on Facebook at Ed Killer, follow him on Twitter @tcpalmekiller or email him at or call him at 772-221-4201.