STUART, Fla. — There are no plans to release Lake Okeechobee water to the St. Lucie Estuary any time soon. That was the message Friday during the Army Corps of Engineers' weekly update.
SPECIAL COVERAGE: Protecting Paradise
This week, the Corps took another step closer to picking a new plan that will determine how much water could be sent to the St. Lucie Estuary for years to come.
The Army Corps released its data on the final five plans it could pick as its new guideline under the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM.)
That will be the plan the Corps uses to decide when, where and how much water is released at a given time from Lake Okeechobee, replacing its current operations plan, LORS, established in 2008.
The Corps is tasked with balancing the needs of various stakeholders surrounding Lake Okeechobee.
For example, the St. Lucie Estuary does not need Lake Okeechobee water. The Caloosahatchee River needs some of the water. Communities to the south of the lake need water for various needs like water supply and agriculture.
All of this is taken to account in addition to factors like habitat protection, flood protection, and public health.
Col. Andrew Kelly with the Army Corps of Engineers explained Friday the scientific data is complicated and the average stakeholder might not be able to make much sense of what each of the five possible models looks like for each community and stakeholder.
But he explained all five new options are an improvement from the current operating plan, giving the Corps more flexibility in where they send water in the future.
"I'm very optimistic that the future of Lake Okeechobee, in terms of operations, is going to be significantly better," Kelly said. "It’s going to be exciting the next few weeks."
Paul Gallo is among the Treasure Coast business owners keeping a close eye on the Corps’ final decision, expected late next month.
He owns the Crusty Crab Cafe, essentially a food truck for boaters.
"We sell everything. We sell hot dogs and hamburgers," Gallo said.
You can find him out at the Stuart sandbar on weekends. Boaters lately have been flocking to the seemingly perfect conditions, which he credits to the absence of Lake Okeechobee discharges.
"It’s been very busy," Gallo said.
He can use the boost in business after COVID-19 caused him to lose some profits. Water laden with toxic algae is another health threat that has repeatedly hurt business over the years.
"I'm hoping that they don't release at all," Gallo said.
Because the data released by the Corps is not easy to understand by some stakeholders, the Corps is holding a workshop next week to better explain how each of the five plans would potentially impact each community.
The new plan would go into effect in 2022 following the completion of the rehabilitation of the Herbert Hoover Dike around the lake.