WEST PALM BEACH – The new plan for managing the levels of Lake Okeechobee will not eliminate the need to release water to the coastal estuaries after a hurricane hits.
The June 29 meeting of the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board (LOSOM) focused on the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual, which will replace the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS) in 2022 when repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike are complete.
“None of the schedules can fix our problems in the most extreme events in wet years,” explained Director of Ecosystem Restoration and Capital Projects for the South Florida Water Management District Jennifer Reynolds. No schedule can address the need to deal with high water levels from a hurricane, she said.
“There’s also no schedule that can fix drought,” she said.
Reynolds said most of the water management decisions are made when the lake is the middle of the lake level schedule. In general, the proposed alternatives for LOSOM try to spend less than 5 percent of the time above 17.25 feet and about 20% of the time in the water shortage bands.
She said the schedule takes into consideration Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) projects which will be complete by 2025. It does not include the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) reservoir because it will not be complete by 2025. (The first construction contract for the EAA reservoir is expected to be ready to be approved by the end of 2021.)
The CERP infrastructure projects are needed to address the bigger water quality and water supply concerns, she said. “If we could have fixed all these problems with the lake schedule, we would have done it, and it would not have cost $21 billion,” she said.
SFWMD Governing Board Member Ron Bergeron noted water cannot be sent south to Everglades National Park unless it meets water quality standards. He also pointed out the key to moving more water south is removing the obstructions at the Tamiami Trail. He said the goal is moving water all the way to Florida Bay, “not just moving water to the Tamiami Trail.”