OKEECHOBEE — The 2019 wet season has brought “average” rainfall according to information shared at Sept. 13 meeting of the County Coalition for the Responsible Management of Lake Okeechobee, the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Estuaries and the Lake Worth Lagoon.
After the series of years of “above average” rainfall which meant high levels in Lake Okeechobee and freshwater releases from the lake east and west, this year’s merely average rainfall has been good news for the lake and rivers, according to the South Florida Water Management District and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reports.
The “average rainfall” year has meant no releases from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie Canal, said St. Lucie County Commissioner Frannie Hutchinson. She said this has illustrated the problems of the nutrient rich water coming from the C-23 and C-24 basins.
“With no draw downs from the lake coming out, there has been a lot of discussion and pictures of the plumes coming out the St. Lucie inlet,” she said.
“You’ve got to admit that is coming off of us,” she said. While the water is dark, the need for projects to clean up the C-23 and C-24 basins is clear.
“We’ve tried for years to get these projects up and going,” she said.
Col. Andrew Kelly of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the Herbert Hoover Dike on track to be complete in 2022.
The dike rehabilitation project is fully funded by Congress. The dike is getting better every day, he said.
The southern end of the dike was in better shape this year than it was during Hurricane Irma due to construction projects completed in the past two years, he said.
Lake ‘deviation’ considered
Col. Kelly said this year, the corps “took an opportunity to execute some operational flexibility and release water at a different timing than we would have done.”
“We think the lake ecology was helped by lowering the lake this year,” he said.
He said while “operational flexibility” worked for this year only, the “deviation” plan currently under public review is not the same thing they did this year.
“Operational flexibility was about ecology,” he said. “The deviation is all about algae blooms. It’s about the potential to move water when algae is not present so you don’t have to move water when algae is present.
“The bottom line for me is if there is an algae mat sitting behind the gates, I don’t open the gates,” said Col. Kelly. “If there isn’t an algae mat and the lake is rising, we might open the gates.”
He said the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM) currently under development, will go into effect when the dike is complete in 2022. LOSOM will include use of water storage projects that will be available with the completion of the C-43 reservoir west of the lake and the C-44 reservoir east of the lake. Both projects are currently under construction. He said LOSOM will not include use of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) reservoir project south of the lake because that reservoir will not be complete when LOSOM goes into effect. Col. Kelly said he expects LOSOM to be used for about 10 years. At that time, the lake plan will be re-evaluated to reflect the additional work completed toward Everglades restoration.