Water flowing into the big lake is high in phosphorus; Meeting at Okeechobee SFWMD office set for Tuesday, at 6 p.m.

OKEECHOBEE — On Tuesday, water managers will hold a public meeting to discuss plans to help clean up the water entering Lake Okeechobee.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s goal for a healthy lake Okeechobee is 40 parts per billion (ppb) or less of phosphorus.

According to data compiled by the South Florida Water Management District, the average in-lake concentration over the past year was 118 ppb, and most of the water entering the lake had even higher concentrations of phosphorus.

Plans to “clean up the lake” are continually thwarted as water with high phosphorus loads keeps pouring in.

Headwaters Project of the Kissimmee River

Headwaters Project of the Kissimmee River

Over the past year, water from the Upper Kissimmee basin had a phosphorus load of 85 ppb — double the target load for the lake. And water coming into the lake from  the lower Kissimmee had concentrations of 106 ppb.

Water entering the Big O from Fisheating Creek averaged 145 ppb; Indian Prairie, 208 ppb; Taylor Creek/Nubbin Slough, 381 ppb.

Even though the upper Kissimmee basin water has a lower concentration of phosphorus in parts per billion than other sources, there is such a large volume of water coming into the lake from the Kissimmee River that the upper Kissimmee contributed 98,599 kilograms of phosphorus and the lower Kissimmee added another 59,395 kg of phosphorus into the lake, over the period from May 2015 to April 2016.

Water from the Kissimmee River flowed into the lake at volumes ranging from a low of 11,189 cubic feet per second in June 2015 to a high of 165,549 cfs in October 2015.

Longtime hot spots for phosphorus concentration are Indian Prairie and Fisheating Creek in Glades County, and Taylor Creek/Nubbin Slough in Okeechobee County. UF researchers attribute some of the phosphorus in the runoff in these areas, to the naturally occurring phosphates in the soil and “legacy” phosphorus leftover from sources long gone, such as the dairies that were forced out of the basin by FDEP regulations 30 years ago. There is also legacy phosphorus in the lake.

Fisheating Creek runoff was responsible for 79,987 kg of phosphorus entering the lake in the past year; Indian Prairie, 85,854 kg, and Taylor Creek/Nubbin, 92,139 kg.

The flow of water from Taylor Creek/Nubbin Slough into the lake ranged from 7 cfs in June 2015 to 3,829 cfs in February 2016.

A point to note: Even with these high concentrations of phosphorus entering the lake, the water leaving Lake Okeechobee and flowing into the St. Lucie estuaries was still as clean or cleaner than the direct flow from that basin.

According to SFWMD data from 2011 to 2105, the water from the lake accounted for 21 percent of the freshwater entering the St. Lucie, along with 21 percent of total nitrogen load, and only 13 percent of the phosphorus.

The lake meeting is planned for Tuesday, July 26, at 6 p.m. at the SFWMD office, 3800 N.W. 16th Blvd. in Okeechobee (Watch for the sign for the turnoff from U.S. 98).

A town hall meeting about issues involving the Herbert Hoover Dike is planned in Clewiston on Friday, July 29 at 6 p.m. at the New Harvest  Church, 370 Holiday Isle Drive. For more information, contact 561-285-1507,

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