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Army Corps commander optimistic about improved water quality

Col. Andrew Kelly calls new Lake Okeechboee water release schedule 'more resilient'
Posted at 7:26 PM, Jul 28, 2021

STUART, Fla. — How much water will be released from Lake Okeechobee in the future?

That is a question that impacts nearly every community in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast.

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A leader with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers toured South Florida this week, visiting Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast.

After years of relentless pleas to stop algae blooms, people who live on the Treasure Coast are feeling progress.

"I think the future's pretty bright, not only for this area but for kind of South Florida in general," said Col. Andrew Kelly, commander for the Jacksonville District of the Army Corps of Engineers.

lillypads and blades of grass in water at Lake Okeechobee, May 2021
Lillypads and blades of grass protrude from the water of Lake Okeechobee.

He is tasked with striking a balance and weighing trade-offs for where Lake Okeechobee water flows for the next decade.

"I'm really happy to be in the position to be able to play kind of an honest broker amongst groups that often have conflicting needs, desires, wants and things like that. To be able to be in the middle of that and make some honest decisions, I think it is great, so I enjoy it personally," Kelly said.

Kelly said the framework selected for the new release schedule, called LOSOM, is now in the optimization phase.

Overall, the plan calls for a reduction in harmful releases into the St. Lucie Estuary and sending more water south.

However, tweaks in the plan will still be made in the coming months.

"It really is about some of those tradeoffs," Kelly said.

Col. Andrew Kelly
Col. Andrew Kelly, the Jacksonville District Commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, speaks to Palm Beach County commissioners on July 27, 2021.

At Tuesday's meeting with Palm Beach County leaders, he explained how the changes might impact them.

Treasure Coast leaders and environmental groups are glad to see the plan calls for a large reduction in the amount of water heading east.

But fine-tuning the plan could still change just how much water is held back from the St. Lucie Estuary.

"I can say not drastically, right, because that would violate the concept, right, so could it change releases? Absolutely could," Kelly said.

Kelly visited Okeechobee on Wednesday to hear their hopes for optimization, looking to best preserve the ecology of the lake, navigation, recreation and water supply.

"I do see a system that is more resilient because of LOSOM," Kelly said.