LAKE OKEECHOBEE — Will the new Lake Okeechobee Systems Operating Manual (LOSOM), currently under development by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, protect the water supply for South Florida?
A diverse group of South Florida interests, including the Miccosukee Tribe, The Nature Conservancy, county and city governments, utilities, businesses and agricultural interests reached out to elected officials in April with water supply concerns.
“The Miccosukee Tribe is concerned with the water levels in Lake Okeechobee,” Billy Cypress, chairman of the Miccosukee Tribe, wrote in letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis on April 30.
“Five times as much water is being drawn from tribal lands than is being supplied to replace it,” he continued.
“Conservation of water in Lake Okeechobee during the wet season allows supply of water during the dry season. This year, South Florida entered the dry season with Lake Okeechobee at the bottom of the regulation schedule. This was no accident. This was not weather related and this was not an act of God. A conscious decision to manage the lake levels low has forced the Everglades and every citizen of South Florida into water shortages.”
He stated that in the northern water conservation area (WCA) 3-A, where the Miccosukee Federal Reservation is located, the water levels are a foot below ground surface.
“Worse yet, the Central Everglades Planning Project, known as CEPP, anticipates further water level decreases in WCA-3A over the next 10 years. While the Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District acknowledge these lower water levels, they dismiss the impacts to the tribe’s lands. Tribal airboats will experience increased times when there will not be enough water to float an airboat that end of WCA-3A, where water levels are highest. This policy is cultural genocide to the Miccosukee people. How are we to practice our religion, visit our ancestral homelands, continue our culture if we cannot access our lands?”
In his letter, Mr. Cypress points out the Water Resources Development Act of 2000 contains a “savings clause” that provides protection of existing legal sources of water and the level of flood protection in existence in 2000.
“It is very clear to the tribe that this ‘savings clause’ is now being violated and will continue to be violated during the implementation of CEPP,” he wrote. “The Corps of Engineers and the SFWMD are currently engaged in revision of the Lake Okeechobee Systems Operating Manual. The same political influences that drove the disastrous mismanagement of Lake Okeechobee water levels are now calling for Lake Okeechobee to be managed at 10.5 feet.
“The Everglades is a unique system and must be managed as a system — not just for the exclusive benefit or to the detriment of one area. Most scientists and ecologists agree that Lake Okeechobee should be managed between 12.5 on the low end and 15.5 feet on the high end. Yet today, the water levels in Lake Okeechobee are 11.44 and are still dropping. This was a failure to properly manage lake levels earlier in the year (not weather related.) Future management of the lake at 10.5 feet will increase the frequency of minimum flows and level exceedances which will result in multiple violations of state law.”