Rep. Donalds, panel answer questions about SWFL, state water management

The future of how we deal with our vital state water resources was front and center during an event held by one of Southwest Florida’s U.S. congressmen.

Rep. Byron Donalds, R-District 19, brought a panel of key players together for a public forum at Cape Coral City Hall Tuesday to answer questions about protecting Lake Okeechobee and other waterways in the state.

The biggest concern from people in attendance was what will be done to evenly distribute the lake discharges.

The panel was asked that question a number of times, and Donalds addressed those concerns by saying the new release plan will not put all the burden on the Caloosahatchee River and Southwest Florida as a whole.

Most will not forget the sight and smell of what was a sea of blue-green algae in Cape Coral canals back in 2018, and no one wants to see that again.

“The people of Southwest Florida, they want meaningful answers, real action when it comes to water releases,” Donalds said.

Col. Andrew Kelly of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District says the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM) doesn’t address lake discharges enough, but there is flexibility in the plan to fix that. That includes looking into more discharges to the south, ways to reduce the stressful discharges and seeing if water releases to the east are necessary.

“The current plan that we picked a couple weeks ago has too much stress on the Caloosahatchee,” Kelly said. “Stay with us. We’re going to walk through this together, and we’ll have a plan that’s better than today.”

The LOSOM timetable was also a big point of discussion at the gathering. A final decision won’t be reached until Thanksgiving 2022.

Congressman Donalds told those in attendance lake ecology is just as important as addressing the discharges, and making sure Southwest Florida doesn’t take the brunt of the harmful discharges.

“We can’t get into this cat and mouse game, where, on the west coast, we take nothing, and the east coast takes everything, and the lake is badly damaged,” Donalds said. “It’s a balanced approach that’s going to work for Southwest Florida and the state of Florida.”

Reporter:Zach Oliveri
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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