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Current Lake Okeechobee discharges spark concern if there's a drought

Posted at 8:23 AM, Feb 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-26 18:00:55-05

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Early discharges from Lake Okeechobee are worrying political leaders in Palm Beach County as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reevaluates its rules for maintaining lake water levels.

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West Palm Beach receives most of its drinking water from Clear Lake and nearby Lake Mangonia, but Lake Okeechobee is a backup. During a drought, the lake can become a critical resource.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is in the process of revising the Lake Okeechobee system operating manual, which directs decisions about the water level and discharges into the St. Lucie Estuary and Caloosahatchee River.

West Palm Beach Commission President Paula Ryan, who is also running for mayor, is asking for an emergency resolution from the city to urge the governor and others to not lower the level of Lake Okeechobee.

She says in the past, West Palm Beach has come within days of running out of drinking water during droughts.

The Palm Beach County Commission will be talking about the issue at a 9:30 a.m. Tuesday meeting.

This comes as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Lake Okeechobee discharges last week because the lake rose half a foot in a month. The discharges will occur for 21 days.

The goal with those releases this time of year is to try to prevent the need for them once the wet season begins and temperatures heat up -- the perfect recipe for harmful algal blooms.

Many Martin County resident want to see the lake kept at a lower level in dry seasons.

But Palm Beach County leaders are concerned that could cause problems in the case of a drought.

The public can weigh in on the future of Lake Okeechobee on Wednesday night.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is holding a meeting Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the South Florida Water Management District Auditorium on Gun Club Road in central Palm Beach County.