U.S. Army Corps working on ‘new rule book’ for Lake Okeechobee releases

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Starting Friday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will cut back on water releases from Lake Okeechobee.

It’s to make sure the SWFL coastlines don’t get overrun with brown, murky water. But seeing the poor water quality isn’t new.

As it chases some away from the beaches, others see it as a necessary evil.

“We cannot treat Lake Okeechobee as a gigantic holding pond or lake water because what’s going to happen is it’s going to kill all the vegetation. We already lost a lot of it and that hurts our fishing, our tourism and it kills wildlife,” said Scott Martin.

Martin is a professional fisherman who lives near the Herbert Hoover Dike and lake, and he says the releases are keeping his community safe.

“If the water level in the lake is held at a high-level, then we run a real big risk of the levee failing and killing thousands and thousands of people,” Martin said.

Because the lake height recently lowered, the Army Corps will reduce releases to the Caloosahatchee from 2.6 billion gallons per day to 1.9 billion gallons.

While there’s no immediate solution to stop the releases altogether, the Army Corps says they’re working on future plans to send water south and store it north.

Next year, the Army Corps will also revise the Lake Okeechobee regulation schedule and work on a new rule book for releases.

Gov. Rick Scott released a comprehensive plan to alleviate the high water emergency on Thursday. These new measures enabled by the emergency order include:

  • Moving water out of the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area in Palm Beach County into the C-18 Canal to create additional capacity to move water south.
  • Installation of temporary pumps near the S-39 Structure to move additional water out of Water Conservation Area 2 to the Hillsboro Canal on the Palm Beach-Broward county line, creating capacity in the conservation area.
  • Installation of temporary pumps at the S-151 Structure to move an additional 200 cfs of water out of Water Conservation Area 3A in Miami-Dade County.
  • Operation of the S-152 Structure to move 400 cfs out of Water Conservation Area 3A.
    Installation of temporary pumps at several locations in Broward and Miami-Dade counties that will move water from the conservation areas into the L-29, L-28 and C-4 canals.

All of these actions, coupled with the actions SFWMD already had underway, help create capacity in the conservation areas to take water south from Lake Okeechobee.

SFWMD Chief Engineer John Mitnik gave an update this week on current water conditions and ongoing District actions to lower water levels. These actions include:

  • Using the S-5A Pump Station in Palm Beach County to move 400 cubic feet per second (cfs) out of the L-8 Canal to prevent water from gravity flowing back into Lake Okeechobee.
  • Moving water to tide through every available structure, including the Hillsboro, North New River and Miami canals.
  • Using the S-34 Structure to move 200 cfs out of Water Conservation Area 2A into the North New River in Broward County.
  • Fully utilizing the A-1 Flow Equalization Basin and L-8 Flow Equalization Basin, both components of Gov. Scott’s Restoration Strategies Plan, to store water.
  • Storing water on public lands through the Dispersed Water Management program.
    Working with private landowners to store water on their properties.

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