"It’s Toxic Slime Time on Florida’s Lake Okeechobee"

"Huge green blooms are threatening wildlife, pets, people and cities. And algae season is only getting started."

"For thousands of years, Lake Okeechobee pumped life into Florida’s swampy interior. Summer rains swelled the shallow inland sea, creating seasonal overflows that sustained the Everglades and its alligators, panthers, spoonbills and snail kites.

But a vast re-engineering over the past century has transformed Okeechobee into something life-threatening as much as life-giving. Toxic algal blooms now regularly infest much of its 730-square-mile surface during the summer, producing fumes and waterborne poisons potent enough to kill pets that splash in the contaminated waters, or send their owners to the doctor from inhaling the toxins.

The Okeechobee mess, caused mainly by phosphorus-based agricultural fertilizers, festered out of the public consciousness for decades. But in recent summers the problem has become more dire. Climate change is making storms and rainfall more intense and less predictable, and last fall Hurricane Ian stirred up so much phosphorus that this summer is expected to be particularly bad.

Things get further complicated when lake levels climb so high that contaminated water must be released into canals — toward coastal cities like Fort Myers and Stuart — to protect the structural integrity of the 143-mile-long dike holding back the lake.

The coming weeks will offer a serious test."

Writer Dan Egan and photographer Josh Ritchie report for the New York Times July 9, 2023.

Source: NYTimes, 07/10/2023