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U.S. Army Corps seeks public input on how to handle Lake O operations

The future of the largest lake in the southeastern United States hangs in the balance Thursday.

It’s a resource for fishermen, for tourism and the water supply, but also contributes to our water quality issues.

Now, the government wants you to weigh in on how it handles lake operations in the future.

Ramon Iglesias is the co-founder of Anglers for Lake Okeechobee. “I’ve been involved in the last two years of blue-green algae and the high water and I see the bureaucracy that goes on,” he said.

Now, he wants to take matters into his own hands by running for a Hendry County Commission seat.

“I want to be one of those decision-makers that helps Hendry County grow in the right direction,” said Iglesias.

While he and the marina he works at depend on the health of Lake O, efforts like a report titled “Recover” from the Army Corps of Engineers, pique their interest.

“A lot of people think, well it only affects the marina, or it only affects the tackle shops, but I got to tell you, it’s not,” he said. “Whenever I have a fishing tournament, many times the Sonny’s BBQ in Clewiston runs out of food, so we bring a lot of people to this area and without good water levels and without great ecological conditions, they’re not going to come.”

FGCU Water School Professor Doctor Barry Rosen read that report and believes it protects the lake and environment.

“It’s about the envelope of what the water level should be in the lake that are protective of the lake, protective of the marshes in the lake, protective of the submerged vegetation in the lake,” said Rosen. “And it cuts off and it scores when the lake exceeds 17 feet or, on the high side, and goes below ten feet on the low side, it scores those as negative impacts to the lake.”

The Army Corps says the new plan would revise lake levels for the first time in more than a decade, allowing levels to be a little bit lower than in the past with a range of 12 to 15 feet. The Corps believes public input is vital when managing the lake’s health.

“It helps us take the temperature of the activities, the projects that we are undertaking as agencies as, essentially, employees of the taxpayer,” said Public Affairs Specialist John Campbell with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District.

The Army Corps says lake ecology is just one measure in determining the future lake operating manual.

They also have to consider water storage and supply, especially when considering rain and runoff.

One of the concerns at the Herbert Hoover Dike is will it hold if water levels get too high? Repairs are underway.

For more information and to read the “Recover” report for yourself, click here.

Reporter:Stephanie Byrne
Writer:Briana Harvath
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