U.S. Army Corps of Engineers resumes Lake Okeechobee discharges Friday

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers resumed releasing water Friday morning from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie Estuary after discharges were suspended over that last few days.

The water releases began shortly after 7 a.m.

The Corps said in a written statement the water level in the lake is approaching 14.5 feet, up 1.65 feet from its 2018 low in May.

"We will implement pulse releases with variable flows that simulate rainfall events in an effort to reduce some of the environmental impacts, said Jacksonville District Commander Col. Jason Kirk in a statement.

The discharges will be made to both the Caloosahatchee Estuary and the St. Lucie Estuary.

"Our flood-risk-management decision is informed by the fact that a major breach of the Herbert Hoover Dike threatening 37,000 people around the lake could cause consequences that include damage to homes and businesses, direct damage to structures and roads, and costs to remove water from flooded areas over many months," said Kirk.  "We acknowledge the multiple challenges in this system including this summer's extensive algal blooms.  Through our federal-state dike rehabilitation and Everglades restoration efforts, along with the state and local community investments to control nutrients from the lake and adjacent waterways, we are collective on the path to remedying these multiple challenges."  

On Sunday, protesters lined up across the St. Lucie Lock armed with signs and dressed in green asking to keep Lake Okeechobee discharges from flowing into the estuaries.

Discharges from Lake Okeechobee combined with rain, pollutants and heat have caused toxic algae blooms. Critics of the discharges say it's not only hurting the ecosystem but their economy as well.

Martin County is keeping an eye on the water from the sky with weekly aerial drone surveying.

"Keep tabs on where the algae is, how thick it is, where it’s accumulating and we’re going to try to do that weekly through this event, so that we can monitor progress, learn what we can from it," said John Maehl, ecosystem manager for Martin County.

The county also looked at the salinity in the water over the last two weeks while the discharges were paused for 13 days. That did improve the salinity.

“We believe the break was a very good thing for the river," Maehl said.

Now that the lake is at 14.5 feet, Maehl said the county understands the corps has to release water again.

That was all we could ask for given the hydrological conditions in the lake and in the watershed," he said. "I think we’re just going to have to hope for the best as the discharges come.”

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