Lower water levels benefit Lake O ecology

Posted 5/4/22

Lake Okeechobee has dropped below 13 feet above sea level, which is good news for the lake’s ecology.

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Lower water levels benefit Lake O ecology

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Lake Okeechobee has dropped below 13 feet above sea level, which is good news for the lake’s ecology. The lower lake level means water managers will be able to use controlled burn to clean out some of the brush and unwanted vegetation, and new submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) has a chance to grow.

The Lake Okeechobee Interagency Task Force shared the following information about Lake Okeechobee for May 2022.

It’s the peak of the dry season. Increasing temperatures and strong winds make evaporation rates increase. The water levels on Lake Okeechobee are starting to drop quickly. The lower water levels provide wonderful benefits to the lake including increased vegetation growth like eel tape grass, spike rush and bulrush. In many more areas, sunlight can reach the bottom which helps submersed aquatic vegetation grow. With lower water levels, please be extra cautious of boat props when traveling around these areas. Props tend to rip up and destroy desired submersed vegetation also known as prop scarring. This damaged vegetation can take years to come back depending on conditions.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is conducting interagency surveys via airboat, monitoring for floating aquatic plants throughout the lake. If you spot a navigational way that is blocked, please notify either Jessica Fair (Email: Jessica.m.fair@uscae.army.mil), or Sarah Palladino (Email: Sarah.Palladino@MyFWC.com).

The corps will be conducting aquatic plant management treatment via contractor on Lake Okeechobee to maintain navigation and flood control structures around the south end of the lake. Area of responsibility will include the rim canal from Port Mayaca to Old Sportsman’s canal and in lake from Pelican Bay to Uncle Joes Cut. Current aquatic plant management work is taking place from Ritta Island to Pelican Bay.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s s Invasive Plant Management Section will be managing invasive floating plant contractors treating from Uncle Joes Cut to the Harney Pond Canal, and from the Kissimmee River to Chancy Bay.

Additionally, Luziola subintegra is continuing to be treated around the lake as an EDRR species (Early Detection Rapid Response) to prevent further infestation. The nutrient reduction project east of the Indian Prairie Canal was mobilized mid-February, is currently harvesting floating plants, and will be monitored by UF and FWC throughout the project term. Treatment of Scleria lacustris will begin throughout the lake in mid-May. Surveys for snail kite nest locations are continuous, and there will be no floating plant treatments conducted within the buffers around the nests as they pop up throughout the season.

FWC will begin management of 1,500 acres of torpedograss in the dry portions of the northwest marsh on May 2nd, along with spot treatments in previous management areas. Management of 800 acres of cattail will begin the week of May 16 within the southern and northwest portions of the lake. FWC will also conduct wildlife island maintenance activities in the northwest marsh that include herbicide treatment of nuisance and invasive vines and Phragmites the week of May 23.

South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) will begin surveying for the federally endangered Okeechobee Gourd (Cucurbita okeechobeensis). Surveys will be conducted in the Southern marshes and swamps from Pelican Bay to the East Wall near Clewiston. Annual surveys to document Okeechobee Gourd populations and locations are generally conducted May-June as water levels and environmental conditions allow.

The Okeechobee Gourd is an endangered species
The Okeechobee Gourd is an endangered species

SFWMD’s Land Stewardship Section intends to resume prescribed burns in the Sports-Haven Marsh and Curry Island areas of Lake Okeechobee if water levels are below 13 feet and the environmental/atmospheric conditions are appropriate. There are no cattail or torpedograss treatments planned due to lack of funding.

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