The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers initiated releases from Lake Okeechobee in May in an effort to control water levels as authorized under its water control plan, the 2008 Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS). Since that time, they say a number of statements have been made that are inconsistent with the facts regarding the Corps’ water management activities.
As of today, the lake level is 15.86 feet NVGD, up 1.63 from July 1. Inflows continue to outpace outflows, but the gap has started closing in recent days. The Corps has maximized the flows to the Caloosahatchee River and St. Lucie Canal as authorized by LORS. The Corps plans to discharge at current levels until the lake level returns to the Low Operational Sub-Band as defined by LORS. It is unknown when this will occur because the lake continues to rise, despite the releases.
Myths & Facts
Myth: The Corps is to blame for killing wildlife in the estuary.
Fact: Since May 8, more water has flowed to both estuaries as a result of runoff from heavy rain than has come from the lake. Thus, heavy precipitation in the region has done more to upset the saltwater/freshwater balance in the estuaries than the water releases.
Myth: The Corps is to blame for releasing fecal-contaminated water.
Fact: The Corps has no control over the quality of water that flows into the lake. Although the Corps releases water that has flowed into the lake, the responsibility for water quality lies with other local, state, and federal agencies. The same issues that impact water quality in the estuaries—too much phosphorus from fertilizer, poorly-maintained septic systems, herbicides and pesticides—also affect water quality in the lake. The Corps has no authority to regulate this.
Myth: The Corps has capacity north and south of the lake that isn’t being utilized.
Fact: Any capacity that may exist in the system has to weigh the additional flooding risk that materializes when that capacity is utilized. For example, some have proposed keeping canals at higher levels as an effort to generate more storage capacity for water. When canals are kept at higher levels, the threat to public safety and property increases as a heavy rain event could generate runoff that can’t be discharged through the canals, resulting in street flooding and backup of water into yards, fields, and possibly homes. This same principle applies to storage in the Water Conservation Areas (WCAs) and to the lakes north of Okeechobee. Public safety is the Corps’ top priority, and as such, potential impacts are constantly being evaluated in regards to how a decision in one part of the system may adversely impact another.