Florida Bay Salinity Drops Due to Heavy Rains
| August 11, 2017
By BRUCE RITCHIE



TALLAHASSEE — Recent rainfall in South Florida has reduced salinity levels in Florida Bay amid concerns earlier this year that a drought could spark a summer sea grass die-off.

Months of drought in 2015 contributed to hypersalinity in Florida Bay that caused a 40,000 acre sea grass die-off, according to the National Park Service. During the 2017 legislative session, supporters of an Everglades water storage reservoir said the project is needed to help prevent future sea grass die-offs, an argument state water managers disputed.

Salinity levels over the past month have been going down, the South Florida Water Management District board was told last week. But those levels remain a cause for concern.

"The salinities are still higher than we would expect at this time of year," said Terrie Bates, director of the district's water resources division. "So the bay continues to use additional fresh water flows."

But an agency spokesman wouldn't say that a die-off has been averted this summer because, he said, that will depend on rainfall in the coming months.

During the legislative session, reservoir supporters mainly argued that water storage was needed to reduce discharges from Lake Okeechobee to estuaries on the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers, where they were blamed for algae blooms that drove away tourists in 2016.

In May, the Florida Legislature passed, and Gov. Rick Scott signed, S.B. 10 (17R) to provide bonding authority for the state's half of the proposed $1.5 billion reservoir project. The reservoir would be designed for 31,000 acres of state-owned land and possibly additional farm land.

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