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Water discharges from Lake Okeechobee into St. Lucie River begin

'I know people get frustrated and I'm frustrated, too,' Col. James Booth
Lake Okeechobee water release at St. Lucie Lock, Feb. 17, 2024
Posted at 5:20 PM, Feb 17, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-17 23:51:47-05

STUART, Fla. — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began discharging water from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie River early Saturday.

The lake's water level is above 16 feet, an abnormally high level for the dry season, following heavier-than-normal rainfall from El Niño. The plan is to release up to one billion gallons a day east to the Treasure Coast to get levels down to 12 or 13 feet.

But not all are happy with the plans. U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., questioned the discharges on Saturday.

"Why were you not working in the months before this to get it lower instead of letting it get to a point that said we need to worry about this at this point?" Mast asked.

Col. James Booth with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers understands the frustration.

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"I know people are frustrated and I'm frustrated, too," Both said. "When you hear folks say, 'Send the water south,' we are working on it."

Booth said a water reservoir is currently being built to reduce the number of releases from the lake.

A stormwater treatment area is also almost complete. That will help capture water from Lake Okeechobee and treat it.

"If we work it out well, we may be able to draw water into that stormwater treatment area and send water south over the next year or two," Booth said.

The Army Corp said the water releases will continue through early April as they continue to reassess.