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South Florida Water Management discusses Lake Okeechobee water release plans

Army Corps expected to select new LOSOM plan by early August
Posted at 1:31 PM, Jun 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-29 17:51:26-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Experts held a meeting Tuesday in West Palm Beach regarding managing water levels in Lake Okeechobee as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers nears a decision on a future release schedule.

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The South Florida Water Management's governing board workshop is focusing on the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM).

The Army Corps of Engineers' new LOSOM schedule will determine how much water is released from Lake Okeechobee for years to come and where it will be sent.

The South Florida Water Management District spent most of the workshop discussing the positives and negatives of each of the six LOSOM options being considered by the Army Corps.

Community leaders from across Florida, including U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, have called on the Army Corps to select a balanced water release schedule from Lake Okeechobee.

Local leaders have said they want a plan that sends more water south and eliminates harmful, toxic discharges to the St. Lucie, Caloosahatchee and Lake Worth Lagoon.

One of the six options, called Alternative CC, would reduce discharges to the St. Lucie Estuary by about 75 percent.

Attending Tuesday's meeting was Becky Harris of Martin County, who has a dog who fell victim to blue-green algae.

"[My dog named] Pandora went into liver failure. She took a bite of a dead catfish," Harris said.

She said that occurred along the St. Lucie River four years ago. Now, her interest is how much more water from Lake Okeechobee will be coming her way in the future.

Becky Harris, Martin County resident who says dog hurt after ingesting algae
Becky Harris says her dog suffered liver failure four years after ingesting blue-green algae.

"Our community has been devastated," Harris said. "The west coast [of Florida] and now West Palm with the drinking water and another dead dog. This is critical to get it right."

Tim Gysan, Army Corps senior project manager, is hearing viewpoints from all sides and trying to strike a balance over controlling Lake Okeechobee water levels and sending algae into waterways.

"Flood control being the primary authority we have, but we do consider the health risks when making operational decisions, so we have authority to do that," Gysan said. "So, I think that's a new thing that's come into the decision-making process."

Tim Gysan, Army Corps senior project manager
Tim Gysan discusses the water discharge plans being considered by the Army Corps of Engineers.

"Alligator Ron" Bergeron is on the board for South Florida Water Management whose family has lived in the area for eight generations. The obvious choice for him is sending more water into the Everglades.

"Water moving south is less water moving east and west and quantities greater than natural, which is affecting estuaries in the Gulf and Atlantic," Bergeron said.

The Army Corps is expected to select a LOSOM plan by early August.

The South Florida Water Management District has adopted the following position on LOSOM:

“The South Florida Water Management District works to safeguard and restore South Florida's water resources and ecosystems, protect our communities from flooding, and meet the region's water needs while connecting with the public and stakeholders. LOSOM allows us to capitalize on recent infrastructure improvements including rehabilitation of the Herbert Hoover Dike and CERP features. The SFWMD views balancing the differing interests across the system, including flexibility to adapt to current situations to achieve that balance, as integral to the success of the LOSOM process. Those interests include: equitably delivering water supply to society and the environment for beneficial uses during the dry season; increasing the tolerance for temporary/short term higher lake stages during the wet season in order to avoid harmful estuary discharges; and maintaining the other congressionally authorized purposes of flood control, navigation, and recreation.”