SFWMD Responds to Increased Releases from Lake Okeechobee
Today [Mar. 5th], the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced increased releases from Lake Okeechobee. South Florida Water Management District Communications Director Sean Cooley released the following statement:
“Lake Okeechobee’s current lake level needs to be reduced while there are no Harmful Algal Blooms present on the lake in preparation of the upcoming hurricane season. The South Florida Water Management District is recommending operations to reduce lake levels with non-harmful estuary releases and sending as much water south to the Everglades as possible. It’s important that releases are conducted in a manner that maintain estuarine conditions that do not inhibit oyster reproduction.
We will closely monitor estuary conditions and recommend adjustments to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that lessen the negative impact of releases should they occur. Advancing the EAA Reservoir along with other storage projects all around Lake Okeechobee will help fix South Florida’s imperfect water management system and reduce undesirable releases from Lake Okeechobee to the Northern Estuaries.”
The SFWMD provides its analysis in an official memorandum to the U.S. Army Corps. In its Operational Positions Statement, the District said:
“The District will continue to work with the USACE to manage Lake Okeechobee levels in an effort to curtail harmful discharges over this year. Generally speaking, the District and Corps should strive to move as much water out of the lake without harming natural resources and other critical resources while there are no harmful algae blooms on Lake Okeechobee. At this time, this involves releases that maintain appropriate salinity for oyster spawning in the estuaries and ensuring the Stormwater Treatment Areas don’t sustain long term damage from extended high-volume flows. Current District operational objectives are to move approximately 500 cfs south from Lake Okeechobee, in addition to water supply needs, for delivery to the Everglades. The District anticipates deliveries to the Everglades to increase as the dry season continues and vegetation management efforts in the Stormwater Treatment Areas continue. Given the seasonal dry forecast condition for south Florida, and current lake levels, the District recommends USACE continue discharge to the Caloosahatchee Estuary in a steady release fashion, measured at S-79, at a non-harmful level of 2,000 cfs while continuing to monitor estuary conditions for the anticipated oyster spawning season and make any adjustments as necessary. In addition, the District recommends that the USACE initiate discharge to the St. Lucie Estuary ramping up in a pulse release fashion, measured at S-80, at a non-harmful level of 500 cfs (7-day average) while continuing to monitor estuary conditions for the anticipated oyster spawning season and make any adjustments as necessary. This decision should be reassessed as needed based on estuarine conditions. The USACE typically implements the releases to the estuaries over a 7-day period starting on Saturday and ending on Friday.”