Too big to spray: Why algaeciding Lake Okeechobee just wouldn't work

Amy Bennett Williams
The News-Press
Lake Okeechobee

Editor's note: The News-Press started this weekly feature to answer water questions, including those submitted by the public during the 2018 Save Our Water Summit. 

Carol Dealton emailed her question:

"When we had a home on a lake in Wisconsin, they sprayed for algae every spring.  Why can't they spray Lake O? Also, when and if the reservoir is built can't they treat that water before it get sent down to the tributaries?"

Seems like a perfectly reasonable question, but it's all about scale.

It's easy to forget just how big Lake Okeechobee is, but as the Encyclopedia Brittanica reminds us, at about 730 square miles, it's the United States' third-largest lake (c wholly within the country, after Lake Michigan and Iliamna Lake in Alaska.

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Or, as Paul Gray, Audubon Florida's Okeechobee science coordinator, said with a laugh, "It’s a big frickin’ lake."
To make matters worse, the current algae bloom, which covers up to 90 percent of the lake, is similarly huge," Gray said.

"It's hundreds of square miles ... and by the time you got done spraying the back side, the front side would be blooming again."

Plus, Gray said, many of the commonly used algaecides contain potentially deadly chemicals, which speaks to Carol's second question.  

"Those heavy metals, once you put them out there, they're there forever, and that's not a good thing," Gray said.

Dee Ann Miller of Florida's Department of Environmental Protection, said in an email the department would review and consider any proposals for direct application on a case by case basis.

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