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Water releases from Lake Okeechobee to continue through March 29

Environmentalists fear impacts on oysters beds, seagrasses in St. Lucie Estuary
Posted at 6:09 PM, Mar 22, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-22 18:09:14-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — With the rain falling Friday and more in the forecast Saturday, many residents will be keeping a close eye on the water levels on Lake Okeechobee.

Water releases from the lake will continue through March 29 followed by a two-week break.

However, environmentalists said it is not enough time for the fragile St. Lucie Estuary and its marine fisheries to recover.

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The U.S. Army Corps said it is trying to balance estuary concerns, rainfall and the upcoming hurricane season.

Releases over the past month have pushed the level of Lake Okeechobee down to about 15.5 feet, which is a little less than a foot from where the level was when releases began in February.

But will that satisfy the Corps?

Environmentalists believe that discharges will pick up after a planned break and continue until at least June 1. If history is any guide, the Corps will push for the lake level to be about 14 feet, or even lower, before the start of the rainy season.

"This is the season when the oysters spawn and seagrasses are trying to grow and all the fish are spawning in this estuary, and they need that balance of fresh and saltwater," Florida Oceanographic Society executive director Mark Perry said. "But if you've inundated it with so much fresh water and so much pollution, it's just incredible that they're even thinking of doing it. It's just crazy."

Environmentalists argue that the Army Corps of Engineers should have started with smaller releases last fall as the lake level climbed above 16 feet.