Corps to maximize water flow from Lake Okeechobee

JACKSONVILLE, Fla.- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is planning to further increase flows from Lake Okeechobee this weekend.

Starting Friday, “as much water as practical” will be released through the Moore Haven Lock on the west side of the lake, and the Port Mayaca Lock on the east side of the lake, the Corps said.

“Even with the discharges that started last week, the lake continues to rise,” said Col. Jason Kirk, Jacksonville District Commander. “With additional rain in the forecast, we believe we must further increase flows to reverse the upward trend of the lake.”

On Thursday, the lake stage was at 16.25 feet, the highest since Dec. 12, 2005. Flows will vary based on downstream conditions in the Caloosahatchee River and the St. Lucie Canal, officials said.

The water released tends to be filled with fertilizer nutrients and it turns the rivers and even the nearby Gulf waters brown. But a high amount of water at Lake Okeechobee also puts tremendous pressure on the surrounding, aging dike. The dike protects people and property around the lake from being flooded. A break in the Herbert Hoover Dike could endanger many lives.

“Our main purpose right now is public safety. With the lake, our most important thing is the integrity of HHD right now,” said Jim Jeffords with the Corps of Engineers.

The Corps will increase the flows to more than 9,000 cubic feet per second, which is equal to the releases in the summer of 2013, when the brown water reached the Gulf of Mexico and turned off some visitors.

Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane says he is urging the Corps to re-think the releases. He wants them to send more water to public and private lands and keep it out of the Caloosahatchee River. The Army Corps says there’s been so much rain, other alternatives won’t significantly lower the lake level.