On June 2, Congressman W. Gregory Steube sent a letter to Secretary Pinkham, Lieutenant General Spellmon, and Colonel Kelly concerning the lake levels of Lake Okeechobee.
To: Jaime Pinkham. Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, Department of the Army
108 Army Pentagon, Room 3E446 Washington, D.C., 20310-0108
Lieutenant General Scott A. Spellmon
Commanding General and Chief of Engineers
Headquarters, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 41 G Street NW, Washington, D.C., 20314-1000
Colonel Andrew Kelly
Commander and District Engineer
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District, 701 San Marco Blvd, Jacksonville, FL 32207
Dear Acting Secretary Pinkham, Lieutenant General Spellmon, and Colonel Kelly,
I write to you concerned about politicizing the process that puts at risk proper management of Lake Okeechobee. Specifically, I strongly urge the Army Corps of Engineers to reject calls to drastically lower the level of water in Lake Okeechobee or to develop a regulation schedule that does not fully implement the authorized purposes of the federal project. I further urge the Corps to emphasize the science-based nature of its decisions that will ensure the lake is managed to benefit the lakeside communities and all of South Florida. Protecting Lake Okeechobee is vital to ensuring that the people who depend on the lake have access to safe and reliable water for drinking and agriculture.
While discharges need to be managed taking into consideration the risk of harmful algal blooms, it would be bad policy for Florida and unfair to the rest of the region to cave to political pressure. The lake is our shared resource in Florida and our shared responsibility; and, attempts to pressure the Corps to neglect its responsibility to meet all project purposes and cause undue hardship and harm to other areas in the region while protecting one region should be rejected out of hand as unfair and unrealistic.
Further, a drastic reduction in Lake Okeechobee operational levels would result in the Army Corps operating the lake outside of its authorized purposes of flood control, water supply, navigation, and preservation of fish and wildlife. A low lake level negatively affects water supply, fishing, navigation, and recreation. The lake is a critical habitat for the endangered snail kite, which has nested in the lake for decades. The kite has not nested in the lake for the last 2 years due to the artificially low lake level created in 2019. The risk of drought requires that enough water is present in the lake to hedge as protection for people and crops – and a reduction in base levels that does not consider this would be ill-advised. Low lake levels have resulted in more frequent closures of locks and navigation routes. Developing a lower lake schedule would disproportionally harm the economies of Lakeside communities.
I would like to highlight the great work the State of Florida and the Army Corps of Engineers have done in recent years by investing billions of dollars in building up lake management capacity. The EAA Reservoir Project will have the Stormwater Treatment Area construction completed by 2023, and construction on a new 10,500 acre-reservoir will begin this year to enhance lake management capacity. Further, the construction of ASR wells slows the rate of flow south into the lake, and the work on the Herbert Hoover Dike, fully funded by Congress and nearing completion, will offer the Corps more storage capacity in managing the lake. To that end, the Corps has developed several policy proposals that offer pragmatic and fair solutions.
Lastly, efforts to blame agriculture as the cause of water quality problems should be summarily rejected. Florida’s farmers have done their part to ensure that the lake ecosystem is protected. Pushing the blame on families who have farmed for generations obfuscates the purposes for which the lake is to be managed. Floridians relying on the lake for farming, tourism, and support for their small businesses provide vital economic activity and contribute greatly to feeding our nation. They should be given the respect they deserve, and ought to be supported and considered as an integral factor when discussing lake regulation schedules.
A balanced Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule that meets the lake’s purposes for all of Florida is vital to its people, agriculture, and environment. The final schedule should reflect their importance and I strongly urge the Corps of Engineers to adhere to a science-based process that meets these needs.
W. Gregory Steube
Member of Congress
Cc: Governor Ron DeSantis