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A New and Innovative Nutrient Reduction Project is Starting on Lake Okeechobee


Mechanical harvesters will collect invasive floating plants, which will then be processed and pumped to nearby hayfields to enhance soils.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is leading a new, innovative project to remove invasive aquatic plants. Then, they hope to evaluate any nutrients that were removed to improve water quality in Lake Okeechobee in south Florida. This effort is part of the FWC’s strategy to use a variety of tools and explore new techniques to best manage quality fish and wildlife habitat in Florida.


In partnership with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District, the work began on March 8, 2022 and will cover 35 acres on the lake.



Mechanical harvesters will be used to collect invasive floating plants, such as water hyacinths, and the plants will then be processed into a slurry or semi-liquid mixture. The slurry of plants will be pumped to nearby hayfields to enhance soil. The FWC will evaluate whether the project will benefit both the water quality of the lake as well as agricultural lands receiving the slurry mix. If both, then the success will be twofold and a phenomenal success in utilizing these invasive plants.


“This project highlights the FWC’s commitment to seeking innovative and effective solutions to manage invasive aquatic plants in Florida,” said Melissa Tucker, Director of the FWC’s Division of Habitat and Species Conservation. “While it is too soon to tell if we will be able to use this technique on a larger scale, we are excited about the possibility of having a new tool in the toolbox.”


Reducing invasive plants and their associated nutrients in Lake Okeechobee has long-term benefits to the lake and the fish and wildlife that live there. Managing invasive aquatic plants is also important for recreational opportunities for the public and to maintain accessible navigation. Unmanaged invasive plants have a variety of negative impacts that can include reducing biodiversity and ecosystem health, impeding navigation, reducing water quality, and causing flooding issues.


In simple terms, that means that these plants can gather up enough to form what looks like a “floating island.” Floating islands are comprised of aquatic and sometimes upland plants, and herbaceous and woody plants. Most importantly, they are characterized by suspended masses of organic deposits like peat and mud that vary from a few inches to a few feet thick. These floating islands of invasive plants can interfere with recreational boating & fishing by impeding navigation.


Water hyacinth floating on Lake Okeechobee (Photo Credit: Jeffrey D. Schardt)

Water hyacinth is listed as one of the world’s worst weeds. Even small patches of floating plants can coalesce in wind or flowing water, clogging irrigation water intakes, flood control pumps, jamming against bridges, uprooting native plants, and blocking navigation and access to boat

ramps, which can strand boaters. They can cause a lot of destruction to the environment without intensive management.


Portion of floating mass of uprooted and compacted submersed and emergent plants on Lake Okeechobee. The mass was several feet thick, up to several hundred feet wide, and several miles long.

While this project includes unique transporting methods to dispose of invasive plants and aims to utilize resources efficiently, it may not be effective in all locations and situations. The FWC uses a variety of techniques, including biological controls, mechanical removal, and herbicide treatments to manage invasive aquatic plants in Florida. An integrative pest management approach using a combination of techniques often achieves the greatest results in managing invasive plants.




To learn more about the FWC’s Aquatic Plant Management Program, visit MyFWC.com/AquaticPlants.


Information provided by www.wusfnew.wusf.usf.edu.





 

Blog Disclaimer


This blog was intended to help educate the reader with an easy-to-understand explanation of this new project in Lake Okeechobee. The information offered is for general information and educational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any matter and does not create a company-client relationship. Agency and state department information and regulations are subject to change at any time and therefore, the information offered in this article may not reflect the most current information at the time of reading. Environmental Matters Contracting & Consulting, LLC does not take responsibility for any inaccuracy in any information shared on this blog or this website.

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