Florida officials are urging boaters in that state to use caution as drought has lowered water levels.
Problems in the state range from “moderate drought” to “extreme” in South Florida, with water restrictions in place for many areas. In South Florida a very dry 2006 and a dry beginning to 2007 had Lake Okeechobee at a record low of 8.89 feet on May 31. It should be at 13.23 feet.
Boaters should exercise extreme caution to prevent striking an underwater object or the bottom, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said in a statement. At the same time, no matter how shallow the water, there always is a drowning hazard and FWC officials strongly encourage boaters to wear their life jackets while on the water.
Droughts can reduce the aquifer level, allowing sink holes to form and drain lakes. Salinity increases in tidal creeks may stress fish, and low water levels can trap fish, resulting in fish kills from low dissolved oxygen, according to biologists.
There also may be access problems due to boat ramps being out of water and steep drop-offs at power-loading holes at end of boat ramps that are usable at current water levels.
According to FWC officials, there are positive and negative effects for the state’s wildlife during this time.
The cycle of floods and droughts that Florida experiences is natural, normal and recurring. Florida’s ecosystems are dependent on this cycle to maintain healthy fish and wildlife populations and the long-term benefits of droughts and floods often exceed the short-term negative effects, the FWC says.
“Short-term droughts probably are more beneficial to freshwater fish and their habitat than they are harmful,” Fred Cross, regional freshwater fisheries biologist in the FWC’s regional office in Panama City, said in a statement.
The drought exposes lake bottoms and dries up the muck that has accumulated. Desirable vegetation expands into deepwater portions of lakes and rivers, and seeds germinate on exposed lake bottoms.
However, during a drought, invasive and exotic plants such as hydrilla can become more of a problem. It also provides the opportunity to use prescribed burning to reduce vegetation in the wetlands. This creates open water habitat, which helps water quality and reduces the potential for wildfires, according to Cross.