LOSOM is an important tool for near-term relief to coastal estuaries
The relationship between water quality and Florida's economy has never been more apparent than it is today. The lost summers of 2013, 2016 and 2018 were beyond challenging for the coastal communities situated along the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries. The countless images on social media of guacamole-like algae in our rivers and canals and piles of dead fish and other marine life scattered along our beaches do not begin to capture the very real impacts that poor water quality is having on our communities.
On Sanibel Island alone, we removed more than 850,000 pounds of dead marine life from our beaches. Our local chamber of commerce reported lost revenue from July through December of more than $46.8 million, with lodging cancellation rates at 78 percent during the same time-period. The city of Cape Coral endured months of toxic blue-green algae blooms that clogged up canals and incited public health concerns. Other communities in Lee and Martin counties experienced similar impacts. One of the most common questions that I receive from residents, business owners and visitors is: How could the state of Florida and our federal government allow polluted water from Lake Okeechobee to be discharged to our estuaries? The response that I often receive from water managers is: This is how the system was designed (part of the Central and Southern Florida Project) and nothing can be done until the projects outlined in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) are completed. That answer is no longer acceptable! Our communities cannot wait another 20-plus years.
There is an opportunity for near-term relief to the plight of our coastal estuaries. On Feb. 5, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers kicked off a series of public scoping meetings to gather input on development of a new Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS), now referred to as the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM). LOSOM will provide operational guidance to th