Lake Okeechobee (or, Lake O) comprises 730 square miles and is the second largest lake entirely within one state in the United States. The Lake, “Big Water” in Seminole,” is approximately 15 feet deep depending upon the need to sustain the ecology of the Lake. Lake O is the only lake that may be seen with normal human vision from outer space.
The dominant fauna of the lake is fish. The wide-mouthed bass is the dominant fish; Lake O sustains more wide-mouthed bass than any other freshwater lake in the country. The dominant flora are the submerged plants and algae upon which small fresh water animals and snails feed. The Nineteenth century regarded the Kissimmee River-Lake O-Everglades ecosystem as America’s least explored “last frontier.”
Until 1910, the United States Government had never even surveyed the Everglades. Spain ceded Florida to the United States largely because of its inhospitable environment.
The intentional raising of the water level in more recent years has cut off the light to many of the smaller underwater plants. Where once lake water had been pristine and clear, Lake O is now muddy, dirty and–sick.
Wading birds no longer wade as water rises in the lake. Black crappie, wide-mouth bass, and other sunfish die off as bulrushes no longer populate the water. The Lake no longer attracts wild ducks as it had in the past. Large quantities of fertilizer for Big Sugar further sicken Lake O, spurring the growth of sugar cane and other choking plants, disrupting the River of Grass in its naturally slow movement south to the tip of the Florida peninsula.
On the prairies, otters, waterfowl, shorebirds, and wading birds have long escaped man’s insatiable quest to tinker with Mother Nature, no longer inhabiting Lake O. Above the Lake, Man’s straightening of the Kissimmee River interrupted the natural flow of a network of estuaries, feeding vast prairies. Four hundred tons of phosphorus enter the Lake every year from the Kissimmee River system as a result of fertilizing crops.
Make no mistake. We have the technical answers. Whether we have the will or not to stop Big Sugar from reneging on its agreement to help fix a broken ecosystem unlike any other in the world remains an open question.