Army Corps of Engineers reduces flow from Lake Okeechobee

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Wednesday that it will reduce the amount of water flowing from Lake Okeechobee.

The Corps is making the move as a result of falling lake levels, drier conditions and an improving precipitation forecast, officials said in a prepared statement.

Flows to the Caloosahatchee Estuary and the St. Lucie Estuary are being reduced immediately. The Corps will further reduce the target flows if the lake's water level continues to fall.

"Lake levels have responded well to a combination of decreased inflows to the Lake, increased outflows, and relatively dry conditions," said Lt. Col. Tom Greco, Jacksonville District Deputy Commander for South Florida. "The same water control plan that we used to increase water releases now calls for the Corps to decrease the discharges. There are still several months left in the wet season, so we will continue to monitor conditions and make adjustments as necessary."

The Corps began releasing water from Lake Okeechobee on May 8. Since then, the discharges have totaled 900,000 acre-feet, resulting in a lake stage nearly two feet lower than if no releases had occurred.

The flow reduction comes a day after Gov. Rick Scott committed $40 million to finishing construction on a storm water treatment project by the St. Lucie River and said the Army Corps of Engineers hadn't done its part in maintaining the Lake Okeechobee dike system. Scott says the dumping of polluted water in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries has led to fish kills and toxic water.

Scott said he expressed his concern Tuesday about how families in South Florida were being impacted by the Corps' release of water from Lake Okeechobee into regional estuaries.

"Now the Corps has determined it can significantly reduce these flows without compromising the Lake Okeechobee Dike system," Scott said in a Wednesday news release. "While today is a good step forward, there's much more to be done. Any amount of water from the lake that's dumped into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers impacts families in the area."

Last week, the South Florida Water Management District Board of Governors tentatively approved a draft plan for the Central Everglades Planning Project. The $1.8 billion project would send about 65.2 billion gallons of Lake Okeechobee water south each year rather than toward the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.

The project would use land south of the lake that's already in public hands. It is scheduled to take at least 10 years to complete.

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