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Liquid Heart: Lake Okeechobee part three


Photo by ERIK KELLAR, Daily News

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  • With a population well over 100,000 Cape Coral is a growing metropolis built on former marshlands and mangrove swamps. Drainage projects made rapid expansion of urban areas in Florida possible, but that growth has brought pollution from well-fertilized lawns and oil-slicked roads. Water managers acknowledge releases from Lake Okeechobee affect the estuaries but are quick to point out coastal development plays a role as well.
  • On Lake Okeechobee, a boat trail cuts across clear marshland — a lake rarity these days. Water quality is on the minds of many people who depend on the lake for their livelihood.
  • A fire burns in one of the patches in the 450,000 acre quilt of sugarcane in the Everglades Agriculture Area. Some have called for reflooding the area, but after years of farming, the land sunk below the level of Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades. If the lake was allowed to flow into the area, it would form a new lake.
  • Paul Gray Lake Okeechobee watershed science coordinator for Audubon of Florida
Health of rivers hinges on unproven technology Paul Gray, Lake Okeechobee watershed coordinator for Audubon of Florida, stands at Indian Prairie in the western part of Lake Okeechobee in ankle deep water. “This is what the lake is supposed to look like,” Gray says. When lake levels are kept high, areas like the prairie are flooded by sediment-laden water. When grasses die, habitat for wading birds and small creatures is lost.
  • Locks at Clewiston open to let boaters dock and refuel on their way across the state. Past the flood gates are the U.S. Sugar refinery and 6,000 people that call the area home.
  • An employee of the Okeechobee Livestock Market, Inc. in Okeechobee herds cattle into a pen bound for one of the millions of acres of cattle land in Florida. When managed properly, ranching may provide natural greenways for wildlife.
  • Fish Eating Creek meanders to Lake Okeechobee through soggy plains and cypress hammocks. The creek is a tributary to the lake that flows naturally. Blaming the state for caving in to special interest groups, some believe the plans for restoration don’t go far enough to return the lake’s watershed to its natural state.
  • Deer dash across a watery pasture on a cattle ranch near Lake Okeechobee. The waters in the pasture now flow to drainage ditches and into canals. Restoration plans will include water storage
reservoirs, restoring natural sheet flow to certain areas around the lake and injecting filtered water deep into the earth. This additional storage is intended to reduce water flow to the estuaries.
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