The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, in collaboration with several counties surrounding Lake Okeechobee, has been spraying the lake with herbicide to help mitigate invasive growth. The spraying, however, has remained controversial.
“I think what they’re doing to the lake is absolutely atrocious,” said Mike Krause, a fisherman who’s lived in Okeechobee for 17 years.
Krause believes the spraying of the lake is the cause of fewer wildlife and diminished soil quality. He said the topic comes up often.
“It’s gotten to the point where we as anglers, businessmen and outdoorsmen are absolutely fed up with it,” he said.
Some of the invasive plant species targeted are Hydrilla, Sea Lettuce and Hyacinth. When left to grow they can create dense mats that block out sunlight and nutrients from the lake, according to FWC officials.
According to spokeswoman Carli Segelson, the herbicides used on the lake undergo years of evaluation by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. FWC officials also contract universities and research institutions to find the best methods to apply the herbicide without harming the surrounding nature.
But skeptics say the spraying kills plant-life that then floats to the bottom of the lake and contributes to its deteriorating quality. FWC believes otherwise.
“Spraying plants actually reduces the amount of dead material that goes to the bottom. For example, one acre of water hyacinth left untreated can deposit as much as 500 tons of plant material,” Segelson said in an emailed statement. “That’s why we prefer to treat floating plants at the smallest possible amounts instead of allowing them to grow out of control and continue to shed material.”
David E. Hazellief, an Okeechobee County Commissioner, believes there are bigger issues that contribute to the health of the lake.
“The biggest thing that hurts the lake is the water level,” he said.
According to FWC, the optimal water level for the lake is between 12 to 15.5 feet. It states that the water levels play a big roll in the health of the lake.
“Lake Okeechobee has experienced several high-water events (in addition to Hurricane Irma) over the last several years that has negatively impacted the amount of submerged and emergent native vegetation,” Segelson said.
Other officials said they, too, were against the spraying until they received more facts.
“I was very much being swayed by the misinformation and was not supportive of the spraying of the lake,” said Okeechobee County Commissioner Kelly Owens. “But once I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with FWC then it certainly made me realize the benefits behind what they are doing.”