WEST PALM BEACH – As predicted, the dry season has brought less than average rainfall, according to the report given by South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Chief District Engineer John Mitnik at the Feb. 10 SFWMD Governing Board Meeting.
For the dry season to date, rainfall is about 1 inch below average, Mitnik said. The basin with the largest deficit was over Stormwater Treatment Area (STA) 1 and STA-2. The Miami Dade basin had a surplus of rainfall.
SFWMD is recommending corps continue 2,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) releases to the Caloosahatchee River, he said.
Typically lake levels tend to slow in their recession in February, and then pick up the recession again in March.
“Once that natural lake recession starts picking up, we will revisit and re-evaluate that 2.000 cfs will reconsider,” he said.
The corps made some recent changes to move more water south of the lake, Mitnik continued. The flow formula calls for about 1,100 cfs under the Tamiami Trail.
For the current water year – May 1, 2021 to Feb. 9, 2022:
• About 1.3 million acre feet of water flowed into Lake Okeechobee;
• About 1.2 million acre feet flowed into the Caloosahatchee Estuary, with most of that water coming from local basin runoff during the wet season. Since May 1, 2021, about 350,000 acre feet of the flow to the Caloosahatchee came from Lake Okeechobee with the rest of the water coming from basin runoff. The corps measures flow at the Franklin Lock, which is more than 40 miles from the Julian Keen Jr. Lock at Moore Haven. When there is basin runoff, releases at Moore Haven are reduced. If there is sufficient flow from basin runoff to meet or exceed the target (currently 2,000 cfs), no water is released from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee at Moore Haven.
• No water from Lake Okeechobee has been released to the St. Lucie River this water year. The last lake releases were in April 2021. About 53,000 acre feet have been discharged to the St. Lucie from C-44 basin runoff. About 234,000 acre feet from C-23 and C-24 canals discharged into the St. Lucie and over 100,000 acre feet from the C-23 and C-24 discharged to the Indian River Lagoon in the Fort Pierce area.
• South of the lake, about 1.2 million acre feet flowed into the Water Conservation Areas (WCAs). Just shy of 1 million acre feet has flowed into Everglades National Park, Mitnik said.
• On the lower east coast (the urban area east of the East Coast Protection Levee) just under 1.6 million acre feet has been discharged to tide to maintain flood control on the lower east coast.
Below average rainfall is predicted for the rest of the dry season, Mitnik said.
SFWMD Governing Board Member Ron Bergeron noted the seepage wall protecting the 8.5 square mile (aka Las Palmas) area should be finished in April. This will allow the corps to send more water under the Tamiami Trail, he said.
In the meeting’s ecological report, Lawrence Glenn said the Lake Okeechobee level is good.
“We are in the ecological envelope. We have been since January. We have a really good recession rate going. That’s a good thing,” he said.
He said Caloosahatchee estuary is in good range for salinity. Glenn said the 2,000 cfs releases during the dry season from Lake Okeechobee have been very beneficial to the Caloosahatchee River. The river needs freshwater flow from the lake during the dry season to prevent high salinity in the estuary.
He said south of the lake, 80% of the flow to the Stormwater Treatment Areas (STAs) south of the Everglades Agricultural Area have been from the lake.
“The dry season is the time we rest the STAs and also a time we go in and do projects,” said Glenn.
Salinity is looking good in Biscayne Bay, said Glenn. He said they are conducting a controlled burn in STA 3/4/
Salinity in Florida Bay is in the ecologically desirable range, Glenn said.