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Issues Affecting Hutchinson Island in Martin County

Save Florida’s Waters – A 2021 Update from Paul Laura, HIPI's Environmental Officer



There are a number of initiatives focused on addressing changes to Florida’s federal and state water related regulations.  These changes are urgently needed due to:

  1. The significant increase in population and reduced availability of clean drinking water. 

  2. Continued building on land that is no longer available to capture water, replenishing our aquafers. Instead, the water is entering our waterways as runoff and exiting into the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. 

  3. Our antiquated solid waste treatment plants are overwhelmed and have limited options for handling our solid waste.  You cannot export solid waste out of state.  

  4. Solid waste is spread on farmland. Eventually due to rain runoff, this waste allows phosphorus, nitrogen, herbicides, pharmaceuticals and other materials find their way back into our local waterways.  Nitrogen and phosphorous compounds are a food source for bacteria and algae resulting in large blooms every summer due to the increased sunshine and higher water temperatures. 

  5. Large algal blooms such as “red tide” and blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) which occur in our waters create health hazards to marine life (large die-off), pets (e.g., dogs) and us.  We do not understand the long-term effects due to exposure. The blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) can be seen, for example, by satellites to cover large parts of Lake Okeechobee.

  6. We urgently need to control the above harmful elements of phosphorus, nitrogen, pharma and herbicides entering our waterways.

  7. Additionally, especially during the wet season, we need to control the large amount of water that flows from the northern part of Florida into Lake Okeechobee.  The Army Corps of Engineers regulates the Lake O water level and, under current federal regulations, maintains the safety of the Lake Okeechobee dike system.  Because federal laws, the Lake Okeechobee Operating System (LORS), define the maximum and minimum lake water levels, billions of gallons of water often are discharged every year to the St. Lucie River and the Caloosahatchee River to maintain these levels.

  8. These discharges to the east to the St. Lucie River and to the west to the Caloosahatchee River  are responsible for the significant loss of seagrass vital to marine life, especially manatees, and for bringing the blue-green algae (cyanobacteria), phosphorus, nitrogen compounds, pharmaceuticals and remnants of herbicides into our waters. 


Latest Developments:

  • The Army Corps is updating the LORS water regulation and is called LOSOM (Lake Okeechobee Service Operation Manual). It is to be completed in late 2022

  • After more than two years of meetings, modeling, debates and advocacy, the Corps whittled down the list of potential new “playbooks” to manage Lake Okeechobee (Lake O) to plan CC.  This plan will be further refined/optimized over the next few months. 

  • Plan CC will reduce discharges to the St. Lucie River by 50%; subject to change.  

  • Problem:  To reduce discharges, the Army Corp must send more water south of the lake!! But there is not enough capacity to handle water south of the lake. One solution is building of an EAA Reservoir which has begun construction. 

  • South Florida Water Management is collaborating with the Army Corps to make more storm treatment areas (STA’s) available south of the lake to clean water for discharge into the Everglades which badly needs more water and must meet the 10 parts per billion max nutrient limits.  They are also needed to clean water when the EAA reservoir is completed. Currently, there is not enough capacity. 

  • North of the lake, the Army Corps has announced completion of the Kissimmee River project which entailed return of the winding river configuration to allow it to slow down the flow and allow for some reduction of the nitrogen and phosphorus contained in the water. 

  • The Army Corps has also been charged with finding a solution to reduce the blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) blooms. We are still in the early stages. 

  • The State of Florida is working to develop a model to control nitrogen/phosphorous levels in our waters, the foodstuff for algae and bacteria.

  • Martin County and South Florida Water Management have partnered on a new reservoir to readied by end of 2021 that will be used to clean water from Lake O and local runoff.  This will further reduce the harmful effects of Lake O discharges. 

  • Martin County is also reviewing purchase of more land to hold additional water for cleaning before it gets to the Indian River Lagoon/St. Lucie River. 

  • Martin County is applying for grants to provide for oysters and seagrass to be added to the St. Lucie and Indian River Lagoon.  Seagrass is essential if the St. Lucie and Indian River Lagoon are to be returned to their prior pristine state.

  • Local federal Representative have been petitioned requesting for the EPA and Federal Wildlife Dept to provide grants for increasing oyster beds and seagrass plantings. 




If you see blue-green algae, record the following information: Date, Time Location, Name, Phone Number, Photo 

Call or send it to: 



CLICK HERE to read the Floridian's Guide to Algae, published by the Florida Oceanographic Society.

CLICK HERE to view the Florida Oceanographic Society's webpage on algae and cyanobacteria.

Lake Okeechobee Discharges

and the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM)

"The Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM) is being developed by the Army Corps of Engineers and will impact the health of these waters for years to come. Lake Okeechobee’s water levels influence ecological conditions in the Everglades, the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries, Florida Bay and the lake itself. The Army Corps hosted a series of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) public scoping meetings in 2019 to determine the priorities in managing Lake Okeechobee via LOSOM. Friends of the Everglades helped to activate public participation in these meetings and worked with other like-minded organizations to prioritize human health and safety through LOSOM.

As stated by the Army Corps of Engineers, “The purpose of this effort is to reevaluate and define operations for the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule that take into account additional infrastructure that will soon be operational. The additional infrastructure that will be taken into consideration includes the Herbert Hoover Dike rehabilitation, Kissimmee River Restoration Project, as well as the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) C-43 West Basin Storage Reservoir and C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area.” 

The Army Corps needs guidelines in LOSOM to ensure human health is not threatened by toxins in cyanobacteria blooms that originate in Lake Okeechobee and are discharged to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries, as witnessed in 2016, 2018 and years prior. The Army Corps’ previous protocol, Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule 2008, has been proven inadequate for protecting human health. The USACE has a duty to protect water supply and flood control — but not at the expense of human health. 

The science is settled, now we need action. LOSOM alone cannot solve all of our water quality issues, but it is one substantial way we can address cleaning up our waterways."​

  • Toxic Algae Testing: Florida DEP provides weekly reports on Lake Okeechobee algal blooms, including data points marking sampling locations and results of areas that have been tested most recently:


  • The Big Picture provides an archive of satellite imagery that tracks algal blooms on Lake Okeechobee when they are visible from space, live and historical data from state and federal water managers, and easy-to-read maps that identify nutrient pollution and track water quality throughout South Florida waterways.

Information courtesy of the Friends of the Everglades

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