Unprecedented move to keep algae away from Palm Beach County

In an unprecedented move to keep blue-green algae from fouling Palm Beach County’s Intracoastal waterway, releases from the C-51 canal will be spaced apart instead of coming one long gush of damaging fresh water.

Blue-green algae in the L 8 canal where it meets the C 51 canal just west of Wellington, Florida on July 6, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Blue-green algae in the L 8 canal where it meets the C 51 canal just west of Wellington, Florida on July 6, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

The change in how the water is released from the canal, which flows into the Lake Worth Lagoon between West Palm Beach and the Town of Lake Worth, began Friday.

Read: Is Lake Okeechobee water toxic? Q&A with the experts.

South Florida Water Management Officials hope that by intermittently “pulsing” the water into the lagoon, the natural tidal fluxes will keep salinity levels high enough to kill the blue-green algae that has built a thick scum in some areas of the St. Lucie Estuary.

Similar pulse-like discharges have been ongoing from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie estuary, but Randy Smith, a spokesman for the water management district said this is the first time this time of release has been made from the C-51.

“If you are having heavy rains, you can’t really do this, but it’s been a little drier so you can stagger the releases,” Smith said. “This gives salinity levels a chance to come back up because they are not constantly fighting the releases.”

The changes in the C-51 are part of a series of emergency actions the water management district has taken since Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in four counties, including Palm Beach, over the blue-green algae.

Summa Beach in West Palm Beach on June 22, 2016. The algae on this beach tested negative for toxins in the most recent results.

Summa Beach in West Palm Beach on June 22, 2016. The algae on this beach tested negative for toxins in the most recent results.

The measures include storing additional water in the Upper Kissimmee Chain of Lakes north of Lake Okeechobee and in Florida Power and Light’s cooling pond at the Martin Clean Energy Center near Indiantown.

Earlier this month, the South Florida Water Management District also increased the amount of lake water being pumped into the L-8 Canal in the western part of Palm Beach County — a move some environmental leaders say could send more algae into the Intracoastal Waterway.

SummaBeach71116

A clean Summa Beach in West Palm Beach on July 11, 2016

On June 30, the district said it was increasing water releases into the L-8 Canal to 258 million gallons per day — a 60 percent hike from the previous level. The waterway connects to the C-51 Canal, which flows from the west to the east along Southern Boulevard through the central part of the county.

With more algae-laden water headed toward canals running through Palm Beach County, residents and environmental activists worry about a damaging proliferation of blooms.

But it’s not just Lake Okeechobee that is a concern. Nitrogen-heavy runoff from western communities also travels through the C-51.

“Clearly, with the existing water and temperature conditions, any source of fresh water is susceptible to the algae,” Smith said.

 

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