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Everglades water emergency eases; new concern emerges

The Everglades environmental emergency has eased, but the threat remains for stranded deer and a big chunk of the Everglades. (WPEC)

The Everglades environmental emergency has eased, but the threat remains for stranded deer and a big chunk of the Everglades.

That was the report Thursday from South Florida Water Management District staffers to the agency's Governing Board. The update also revealed a new area of concern: water quality in the Lake Worth Lagoon.

CBS12 found water gushing out the Lake Worth Spillway Thursday afternoon and also reported how June's 100-year storm in the Central Everglades sent water managers into emergency mode-- getting rid of water any way they could.

CBS12 showed images of deer on a levee, on the Palm Beach-Broward County line, seeking higher ground for refuge and food.

Reports from the Water Management District show the rare step of backpumping into Lake Okeechobee, which is always a concern for the Lake's water quality.

Thursday, water managers reported the backpumping had ended, and the emergency has eased-- although water levels are still very high-- two- to three-feet above normal.

Water from Western Palm Beach County farms would normally flow into cleansing stormwater treatment areas, then onto the Everglades. But these areas are full.

To protect the Everglades and the treatment areas, water managers said they are diverting water normally destined for these locations, sending directly down the West Palm Beach Canal, out the Lake Worth Spillway, and into the Lake Worth Lagoon.

"The stormwater treatment areas are a critical part of the State's objective and direction to clean water before it goes into the Everglades," said Randy Smith, spokesman for the South Florida Water Management District.

Drew Martin of the Sierra Club agreed the treatment areas are vital, but now, he worries about the Lake Worth Lagoon's water quality.

"We hope that the district is carefully monitoring that, along with DEP, and carefully watching how the salinity content is dropping, and whether we're losing any sea grasses at this point," Martin said.

Also Thursday, water managers shared an aerial photo of an algae bloom on the west side of Lake Okeechobee.

Fortunately, Lake O is still low enough, so potentially damaging discharges from the Lake to the Treasure Coast are not expected in the immediate future.

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