JACKSONVILLE -- Work continues on the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM) which will go into effect when repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike are completed in 2022.
In a June 25, 2021 media briefing, Col. Andrew Kelly, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District, said a preferred alternative for LOSOM will be chosen by the end of July or first part of August. Then the work starts writing the LOSOM manual.
“We will finish the manual and put out the draft of the environmental information in February 2022,” Kelly said.
The colonel said he is convinced LOSOM will be better than the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS), adopted in 2008.
“This schedule will take advantage of the additional capabilities that a repaired dike gives us,” said Kelly. “When we entered into the current lake schedule, LORS 2008, we fundamentally shifted some of the capacity of the lake,” he explained. This change was due to concerns about the safety of the Herbert Hoover Dike, which at the time topped the corps’ list of the most at-risk dikes in the country.
Kelly said the corps now better understands how high volume freshwater releases impact and affect the coastal estuaries.
“We have more infrastructure to the south,” he added, making it possible to move more water south from the lake.
“We think we will be able to time it in a way that gets us less releases to the estuaries in high volumes, more water to the south and improvement on water supply,” said Kelly.
He said the dike improvements give water mangers more leeway in delaying decisions about lake releases when a hurricane threatens.
For example, when Hurricane Dorian approached the Florida peninsula at one point it looked as if it might come directly over the lake. The lake level was around 14 feet at the time.
Thanks to dike improvements, “we were much more comfortable at that level than we would have been a year prior, being able to have higher confidence in the structure” Kelly explained. “
He said the dike rehabilitation gives the corps “the ability to hold on a little longer until the wet season ends to make higher level releases.
“It’s all about balance,” said Kelly. Just because a higher top lake level is on the schedule “doesn’t mean you should use it all the time.”
“The overall schedule will reflect much of what we have learned in the past decade,” he said. “We’re going to bake into the cake a lot of the lessons we have learned.
LOSOM should include enough flexibility to allow water managers to make smart decisions, he said, but the flexibility in the schedule will be guarded. “We’re not just making it up as we go along,” he added. “We will work through some of the conditions to make sure we stay on track and keep the schedule going forward.”
Kelly said water storage north of the lake is key to giving the corps the ability to manage the lake at levels beneficial to the lake’s ecology. He said they are working hard for WRDA 2022 (the federal Water Resources Development Act of 2022) to fund storage north of the lake.
Storage projects north, east and west of the lake are on track, he continued. The corps will approve the first construction contract for Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) reservoir this year.
This summer, the corps will go over the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) Integrated Delivery Schedule (IDS), the planning document for the CERP projects. Changes to the IDS could be presented in October.
In general, the corps is enjoying historic funding levels for CERP, Kelly said. “Things are going great. We have tons of momentum going forward.”