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Lake Okeechobee water policies entering home stretch

New LOSOM policy closer to being implemented
Posted at 5:59 PM, Aug 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-17 18:15:56-04

ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. — It has not been a "lost summer" on the Treasure Coast in 2022.

No beach closures or canals clogged with toxic algae thanks to a lack of freshwater discharges from Lake Okeechobee.

But how long can that good fortune last?

Beachgoer Walt Stefanski noticed it.

"The water is actually clear," he said. "My daughter just went out 50 yards and she can see the bottom."

Fisherman Fred Scuder also sees water improvements as he waits to cast a line at the Jensen Beach Causeway.

"A little better this year," Scuder said. "We're finding trout a little bit closer."

Without freshwater discharges from Lake Okeechobee, the water has been cleaner — and clearer — east of the Lake.

The lake's current status at 12.79 feet is also good for this time of year, diminishing the chances of discharges moving forward.

"It's extremely unlikely, probably less than 10%," Martin County ecosystem manager John Maehl said.

Maehl has spent the past four years working with the Army Corps of Engineers as they craft a new LOSOM plan. LOSOM stands for Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual.

"Ninety-five percent of the time, the St. Lucie would have no releases under the new lake schedule," Maehl said.

The Army Corps met with area environmentalists and county leaders Wednesday at Stuart City Hall to talk about the next steps forward.

LOSOM is the Corps balancing act between a healthy lake and a healthy St. Lucie Estuary.

The most recent draft did raise some concerns about the phrase "lake recovery, meaning more discharges coming east if the lake gets to 17 feet.

"How this plan will impact when we get to those high-level stages, when we get a couple of tropical storms and the lake gets to that 17-foot mark," Stuart Mayor Merritt Matheson said.

It has been a give and take between the Corps and interested stakeholders as they near the finish line.

"While we always aspire to zero releases at the S-80 or St. Lucie Lock, we're not there, but this is a step in the right direction," Maehl said.

A final plan will be presented in February with the new LOSOM policy, which will last for 10 years, likely to take effect in April 2023.