Over the past several years, I have taken part in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers process to revise the lake schedule governing Lake Okeechobee, known as the Lake Okeechobee Systems Operating Manual (LOSOM).
As a manager of a marina that depends on a healthy and vibrant Lake Okeechobee and as a county commissioner, the stakes could not be higher. Like many Floridians, I showed up to meetings, sent emails and worked to ensure my voice was heard.
In the end, the Corps has selected a plan that could spell the end of Lake Okeechobee as a healthy fishery because it will likely result in holding the lake higher longer. With a higher lake, sunlight will fail to penetrate to the lake’s bottom, grass growth will be diminished, and largemouth bass habitat will suffer.
Perhaps even more disappointing than the Corps’ final selection is the way so-called environmental groups conducted themselves during the LOSOM process.
In a letter dated June 1, 2021, Congressman Brian Mast, the Everglades Foundation, Captains for Clean Water, Friends of the Everglades and other groups financially linked together wrote a letter dated June 1, 2021 urging the Corps “to pick a release schedule (Alternative Plan CC)...” On the day they released this letter, these groups also held a news conference hailing Plan CC as the best option for our state.
When the facts came out, they showed Plan CC could not have been worse for everyone except the residents living along the St. Lucie River estuary. For Southwest Florida, the plan would have significantly increased harmful discharges. For South Florida’s water supply, it wasted water that could have supplied cities like Okeechobee and West Palm Beach, farms, and Native American tribes. For Lake Okeechobee’s fishing community, Lake Okeechobee’s ecology was (and seems to still be)an afterthought. When you added it all up, there were far more losers than winners.
When they chose Plan CC, the Corps seemed to be making a political choice rather than a rational one based on science. In their support for Plan CC, these environmental groups seemed to only care about helping the East Coast instead of also helping other areas of the Lake Okeechobee system. What about fighting for clean water in Lake Okeechobee? What about stopping or significantly reducing discharges to the West Coast?
The Corps may have finally chosen a plan, but the conversation about clean water is far from over. The Corps must consider the impact of holding Lake Okeechobee higher and how that will reduce grass, which is the lake’s natural filter. The Corps and our other federal partners must also hold fast to completing northern storage projects, which will be the regulator valve the lake needs to stop uncontrolled water flooding in from as far north as Orlando. Above all else, we ask that the Corps stop listening only to coastal activists that seem fixated on slicing and dicing constituencies that depend upon the lake instead of fixing the lake itself.
I appreciate Colonel James Booth for his willingness to listen to everyone and try to respond to their concerns, which is a quality the Jacksonville District has been sorely lacking in recent years. We are all in this together, and working together is ultimately the only way we will solve the problem.