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Lake Okeechobee, July 2020.

Balancing act: Lake Okeechobee levels rise, no releases this week

All eyes are on Lake Okeechobee right now as the water creeps higher and higher. Now, it’s at 15.54 (Feet-NGVD29).

Still, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who manage lake levels, says it will not release any water from the lake, east or west, this week.

Ask any fisherman around Lake O, and they know just how fragile the lake is.

LINK: Current Lake Okeechobee levels

“We all have a love for this lake,” explains Scott Martin, co-founder of Anglers for Lake Okeechobee. “And we all need to stand up, and Lake Okeechobee needs a voice.”

He adds, “If it goes too high or if it goes too low, we have some issues.”

Now, the Army Corps faces the decision week after week, whether it will release water to the St. Lucie River or Caloosahatchee River estuaries.

Colonel Andrew Kelly, the district commander for USACE Jacksonville District, confirmed, “We are not doing any releases to the estuaries this week.”

It’s good news for people on the coast, like the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, as we see a lot of local water runoff.

James Evans, the environmental policy director for the foundation, says, “We really can’t take any additional flow, and flows from Lake Okeechobee would really just compound the impacts to the ecology of our estuary that we’re experiencing right now.”

However, keeping the lake too high holds a risk too.

And Martin has concerns. “High water will hurt Lake Okeechobee. We have to get the water down out of this lake. It cannot stay high too long.”

He said too much water is dangerous for the Herbert Hoover Dike and can harm plants beneath the surface, “It provides habitat for fish and wildlife and can also act as a filter for water quality within the lake, resulting in better water quality, and when that water is released to the estuaries, it’s of a better water quality as well.”

The Army Corps knows if they delay releases now, it might mean higher volume releases down the road.

The Corps also announced this week, it awarded more than $81 million in construction contracts for Everglades restoration projects in South Florida.

Reporter:Stephanie Byrne
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