Cape Coral opposes Army Corps of Engineers plan for Lake O discharges

Published: August 6, 2021 4:47 PM EDT
Updated: August 6, 2021 6:01 PM EDT

The City of Cape Coral is adding its voice to the opposition the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers faces in their current preferred plan for Lake Okeechobee discharges in the future.

In a letter dated Aug. 5, Cape Coral Mayor John Gunter writes Plan CC “sends all regulatory discharges toward the Caloosahatchee River and estuary” which could lead to “blue green algae and imperil our waterways.”

Gunter is trying to avoid another environmental disaster like the one in 2018 when blue-green algae plagued the city’s sprawling canal system.

“I live on the water directly off of the river and I couldn’t go out in my backyard because of the smell, and we have to make sure that we do whatever we need to do so that doesn’t happen again,” Gunter told WINK News.

Cape Coral joins the Lee County Board of Commissioners, who earlier this week voiced their opposition to Plan CC of the Lake Okeechobee System Operation Manual (LOSOM), citing unequal water releases to the Caloosahatchee River in comparison to the St. Lucie Estuary.

“We feel that there needs to be a balanced approach as far as from the east to the west,” Gunter said. “The plan that’s developed now, the Plan CC, when you really look at the plan and analyze the data, you are worse off with that plan than our present plan and we feel that’s unacceptable.”

The Lee County Board of Commissioners also sent a letter to the federal government and also voted to sue if changes to the plan were not made.

“The river and estuary have shouldered the burden of these releases and to further increase that burden is unacceptable,” Cape Coral’s letter states. “Over the years, poor water quality has devastated our aquatic habitats that support our fisheries and our tourism-based economy.”

The city is asking the Army Corps of Engineers to adopt an equitable system that would limit discharges to no more than 2,100 cubic feet per second of water at the Franklin Lock.

The city also wants the federal government to incorporate beneficial releases during the dry season.

Peter Formica lives along a canal near the Caloosahatchee River. In 2018, he spent much of his days cleaning the thick algae out of his Clipper Bay canal.

“It was a mat,” Formica said. “It was just like somebody threw old carpeting out on top of this thing and it was fermenting.”

Gunter said if the Army Corps doesn’t change its plan, then the city will join Lee County in their lawsuit.

“We’ve come together as a body, as a region and we all have the same exact concerns, and if the changes are made, I promise, it will be devastating for a region,” Gunter said. “So, unfortunately, we will have no other option but to go down that legal road. Hopefully, we won’t get to that point.”

The Army Corps of Engineers said they plan to discuss their plan on Monday.