USACE holds more ‘listening sessions’ on Lake O releases

October 28, 2021
By Marcy Shortuse

Moving the water south seemed to be the theme of the Tuesday, Oct. 26 meeting held by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the project delivery team in charge of the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual. Known as LOSOM, the project will determine the new outflow direction from the lake when the water is high and has to be released.

The reason a lake in the middle of the state can directly affect our area is simple. The first plan offered by the USACE months ago showed the majority of Lake O outflow being sent down the Caloosahatchee River and out into the Gulf of Mexico, just south of Gasparilla Island. Quite often this water is tainted with cyanobacteria (known as blue-green algae) and other unhealthy water organisms.

At Tuesday’s meeting the Army Corps released eight models they are considering to find a common ground between the goals they must meet and the public’s expectation. While to many it seems like these meetings have been dragging on forever without any solid answers, one must understand that the USACE has weeded through 240,000 different plans since this past summer. Of those plans, 707 succeeded in getting closer to a more southerly water flow, thereby reducing stress on east and west flows. They are now down to the final eight plans, with the most popular being “Alternative CC.” According to the USACE, though, it is more of a “framework than being set in stone.”

Alternative CC would reduce water releases to the St. Lucie River and send more water south, but it will also send more water to the western part of Florida during the rainy season. This has been the crux of the problem that many local organizations and politicians have been unhappy with. It would mean more Lake O water being dumped down the Caloosahatchee during the rainy season – summertime – which is the hottest part of year. The heat feeds bacteria blooms, which is a big problem when the water dumps from Lake O are untreated.

That being said, the USACE says they are far from even getting close to a final and definitive plan. Col James Booth said, “While we appreciate everything you’ve done so far, my message today is that we still have a ways to go to get the most benefit out of the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual that our current infrastructure can possibly provide.”

Tuesday’s listening session showed that in some form or fashion the USACE is listening to the public. Of all eight options, all of them showed the water flowing in a more southerly direction, which is the way it was flowing prior to manmade intrusion. This will allow the water to be filtered in the way it was intended before it makes it way to the Gulf or the Atlantic.

The USACE was holding yet another session on Thursday afternoon as we went to press, and an official announcement which is hoped to hold more information is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 2.

Prior to Thursday’s meeting LOSOM Project Manager Tim Gysan said, “We would like to continue the open dialogue and hope to hear more from everyone after they’ve had a chance to think about what was discussed during the project development team meeting on October 26. We appreciate the participation in the operational guidance workshops held in September and all the great feedback we have received. After we make a decision on the optimized lake schedule, we will come back to the project delivery team in early December to talk in detail about the schedule and operational guidance that will be documented in the Environmental Impact Statement and the Water Control Plan.”

The goal is to have the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual complete by the end of next year.