Lake Okeechobee project manager wants to ‘get it right for everybody’

The way Lake Okeechobee is managed impacts Floridians all over the state, and people are weighing in on a new plan to regulate the lake.

Lake Okeechobee covers 730 square miles. That translates to big water.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District is responsible for the lake management, and that comes with the task of working to please everyone impacted and concerned with Lake Okeechobee.

“I think we’re getting close,” said Tim Gysan, the senior project manager for Jacksonville District. “But yeah, there’s still a lot of work to do to make sure we get it, get it right for everybody.”

Gysan is the brain behind the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM). We sat down with him and learned more about the process to cement a plan moving forward.

“Unfortunately, it’s not going to be a kind of that silver bullet that fixes everything for everybody in the state,” Gysan explained.

The plan the corps favors is alternative Plan CC. It limits all releases to the St. Lucie River and some to the Caloosahatchee River, but the big concern is more discharges to the Caloosahatchee during the wet season.

“It does supply more water in the optimal range, the friendly range for the environment if you will,” Gysan said. “But it does have some larger wet season releases coming to the west coast.”

That’s not something leaders from across Lee County wanted to hear.

“In football, I’m on the two-yard line. I got 98 yards to go,” Lee County Commissioner Chair Kevin Ruane said. “I am not optimistic.”

Ruane said he’s just getting started voicing his concerns.

“I can tell you the game has just started,” Ruane said. “Our community will be heard from every realtor, every chamber, every citizen.”

Gysan told us this plan is one piece of the puzzle. Repairs to the Hebert Hoover Dike and other water storage projects are all in the works, and the Army Corps is looking into wording to give operators more flexibility in the face of algal blooms.

“Adding that guidance in is a way to potentially address algal blooms, something that we’ve done that actually earlier this year using flexibility under our current plan to limit releases when there were active blooms on the lake,” Gysan said.

Once this plan is finalized, there is time to make improvements where needed.

Commissioner Ruane says, if this plan is not improved to help Southwest Florida’s coast, he would ask the Corps to look at an extension; however, he’s not at that point yet. He also says he’s not anywhere near suing, but it’s an option.

Reporter:Stephanie Byrne
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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