Aquatic vegetation key to improving water quality, says Scott Martin

The key to improving water quality in Lake Okeechobee is restoring the aquatic vegetation, according to professional angler Scott Martin.

Mr. Martin spoke to the Water Resources Analysis Coalition at its Oct. 4 meeting in West Palm Beach.

“I have lived around Lake Okeechobee my whole life,” he said. “I fished it since I was 10 or 11 years old.”

He said over the years he has seen the changes in the big lake.

“I’m here to stand up for Lake Okeechobee,” he said.

“Some people in higher government are possibly suggesting we turn Lake Okeechobee into a reservoir, which would be disastrous,” he said.

“Bringing the lake down to a 9-foot level is a terrible idea as well,” Mr. Martin continued. “Lower lake levels are good, but not that low.”

Mr. Martin said the marshes around the edge of Lake Okeechobee should be restored to act as a giant stormwater treatment area.

“I never hear anyone speak about aquatic vegetation in Lake Okeechobee,” he said.

He said when he was a a kid growing up on Lake Okeechobee, the submerged vegetation in the big lake used to grow a mile out into the lake. He said mile markers were placed to keep the commercial fishermen out of the area.

The vegetation helped clean the water, he said. “A mile or two out into the lake was crystal clear.”

Mr. Martin said that over the years he has watched the loss of vegetation in the lake and contended that loss of vegetation is tied to the decline in water quality.

He said that in Fisheating Bay in Glades County, “my entire life, this time of year there would be giant mats of hydrilla, grass and lily pads.
“As a fisherman that’s a very attractive thing. Launch your boat at Fisheating Bay right now, you will find very little submerged vegetation.

“We have water leaving the Kissimmee River, going down through the Kissimmee River. It hits the lake with very little filtration. There is no submerged vegetation to speak of,” he said.

“Your stormwater treatment area (STAs) are full of submerged vegetation,” he said. “That is what filters the water.

“What I propose is we need to start paying attention to submerged vegetation,” he said. “We need to start managing the levels in Lake Okeechobee to promote the grass to grow.

“Once we get a strong base of submerged vegetation in Lake Okeechobee, then we can sustain some years of high water,” he said.

“Lake Okeechobee is a natural lake. God built that lake. That lake was here before we were here,” Mr. Martin said. “That lake is designed to be a lower lake.

“Let’s all start having that conversation about submerged vegetation. That is what is going to clean our water.

“It doesn’t cost a whole lot of money, just a little more management,” he continued.

He said the district spends millions of dollars to pump water into the STAs.

The lake is circular, he explained, and it has wind tide. The wind pushes water into the submerged vegetation around the edges of the lake, and when the wind changes, billions of gallons of water is filtered as the water flows back out into the lake.”

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