Island organizations have come together for a call to action over the management of Lake Okeechobee under a new Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual.
The City of Sanibel, Committee of the Islands, Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation, “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society, Sanibel Captiva Chamber of Commerce and Board of Realtors are strongly urging the public to make their voice heard by Tuesday, Aug. 3 and tell the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers the LOSOM must be balanced for all stakeholders.
“For the past two years, the city has been working diligently with our partners at Lee County and the City of Cape Coral to raise our voices for the protection of the Caloosahatchee Estuary as the Army Corps develops a new Lake O regulation schedule that will dictate lake management decisions for the next decade,” said Mayor Smith in a statement last week.
The Army Corps is currently in the process of developing a new regulation schedule for Lake Okeechobee, referred to as LOSOM. The new plan will guide how water in the lake is managed and the volume and duration of flows sent to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries, and south to the Everglades. LOSOM will replace the current Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS 08) and is anticipated to guide lake operations for the next decade or until additional Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) projects are completed.
The Corps recently selected Alternative CC as the plan that will move forward in the next step of the LOSOM process. They are currently evaluating options to optimize performance of alternative CC to better balance the various project purposes, needs of the natural systems, and stakeholders. Between August 6 and 10, the Corps will announce what components of alternative CC they will optimize in the next modeling phase. Your voice is urgently needed to let the Corps know that we do not accept CC in its current form.
“Please add your much needed voices to ours to urge the Army Corps to incorporate the critical changes into LOSOM that will ensure protection of the Caloosahatchee and west coast communities,” said Smith. “We must have a balanced system for all stakeholders for a healthier Florida.”
Alternative CC as it exists today would be harmful to the Caloosahatchee for the following reasons:
• It relies on the Caloosahatchee as the primary outlet for Lake Okeechobee, resulting in significant improvements to some stakeholders at the expense of the Caloosahatchee and west coast communities.
• It increases the total volume of nutrient-laden water that is delivered to the Caloosahatchee and coastal waters that would be available to harmful algal blooms like blue-green algae and red tide.
• It increases the number of days and duration of stressful and harmful flow events (flows greater than 2,100 cubic feet per second) to the Caloosahatchee, impacting salinity and the ecological health of our estuary.
Throughout the LOSOM process the west coast communities have been urging the Corps to measure all flows to the Caloosahatchee at the Franklin Lock and Dam (S-79), the structure located at the estuary. This would ensure the Corps considers watershed runoff when making decisions on how much water is released to the west coast. Under LORS 08 and LOSOM all flows to the St. Lucie are measured at S-80, at the estuary. This is an issue of transparency and balance and must be incorporated into the final LOSOM alternative and operations plan.
The organizations are asking the Corps to incorporate the following changes into alternative CC to ensure it is balanced for all stakeholders:
• Measure all discharges to the Caloosahatchee Estuary at the Franklin Lock (S-79).
• Cap regulatory discharges made in Zone D, the primary operational zone, to a maximum of 2,100 cfs at S-79— consistent with the ecological performance targets for the Caloosahatchee estuary.
• Equitably distribute flows across all outlets —south, east, and west—when conditions are wet.
• Allow for beneficial dry season releases to the Caloosahatchee and the Everglades in all zones.
• Minimize or eliminate back flowing of nutrient-rich water from the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) and C-44 basins into the lake.
• Evaluate and improve upon modeling completed by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) in sensitivity run 3.5 (SR3.5), which reduced the harmful high-volume discharges to the Caloosahatchee.