Water-Related News

Army Corps wants ‘immediate’ changes to Lake Okeechobee management

Changes in how Lake Okeechobee is managed are in such an “immediate” need that the Army Corps of Engineers is rushing through rule amendments without public comment — a hastiness that has raised concerns about potential water shortages in Palm Beach County.

The changes to 11-year-old federal guidelines that regulate lake levels are needed to avoid harmful algae blooms in northern estuaries, according to an internal Corps letter that was circulated among Palm Beach County Commissioners on Monday.

Melissa Nasuti, of the Corps’ planning and policy division, said in the July 10 letter that “due to the nature and immediate need for this deviation, we are not able to solicit public comment prior to signature.”

Lake Okeechobee expert Paul Gray, who is a scientist with Audubon Florida, knew nothing of the proposed changes late Tuesday, and said he would need more information before making an evaluation. But his initial review of Nasuti’s note led him to believe the changes could be an improvement with the Corps wanting to be more proactive in its approach to releasing lake water to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries, and south into water conservation areas in the Everglades Agricultural Area.

The push for changes comes as a blue-green algae bloom has developed in the northern and western sections of Lake Okeechobee. This year, the Corps used special flexibility to release water from Lake Okeechobee during the dry season in an effort to reduce lake levels so that it wouldn’t need to be released during summer months when algae is more likely to be present.