Army Corps narrowing down new Lake Okeechobee management plan

Published: June 15, 2021 5:15 PM EDT
Updated: June 16, 2021 8:20 AM EDT

If you’re fed up with Lake Okeechobee releases or the blue-green algae that sometimes comes with them, you can have your voice heard.

The Army Corps of Engineers is in the process of rewriting how it handles operations and recently released six new possible lake management plans.

For those of us that live on the coast, environmental groups and leaders only want freshwater flows from Lake O when the Caloosahatchee River needs it. They also want to increase water sent south to the Everglades and Florida Bay.

Paul Julian is a data guy. He’s a hydrologic modeler for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation.

“I think we’ve learned a lot and there’s still a lot to learn,” he said.

So much to learn about managing Lake O’s water level, which is what the Army Corps is tasked with. It’s not easy, but Julian hopes a new plan can benefit everyone.

“We’re going to optimize the system to get balanced benefits across the entire system. So from Caloosahatchee to St. Lucie, the lake and then flow south, so down to the Everglades,” Julian said.

Local leaders, like Lee County Commission Chairman Kevin Ruane, are advocating for Southwest Florida.

“We’ll come up with the best recommendation and we’ll be as aggressive as we possibly can be, to really help the citizens and the businesses within Southwest Florida,” Ruane said.

He’s looking at the plans that would enhance our estuary’s ecology by releasing what is considered to be ideal freshwater flows and cutting back on high-volume ones.

“It’s less damaging to the estuaries. We recognize that they have to have a balance,” he said.

In an attempt to strike that balance, people from all across the country representing the outdoor industry sent a letter to Army Corps.

“You’re talking about a $34 billion impact by fishing and boating in the state, and clean water is absolutely critical … without clean water, those industries fail,” said Capt. Daniel Andrews, co-founder and executive director of Captains for Clean Water.

It’s a balancing act, from meeting the needs of people to water supply to protecting the environment.

The Army Corps will host a virtual meeting on Thursday to go over modeling results from the LOSOM plans.

If you would like to send a comment to the Army Corps of Engineers, you can send it to this email address.