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Lake Okeechobee releases resume into St. Lucie Estuary

Posted at 6:38 PM, Mar 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-08 18:48:00-05

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — The Army Corps of Engineers began sending Lake Okeechobee releases into the St. Lucie Estuary Saturday, aiming to significantly lower the lake level before the start of the rainy season.

Monday, the lake level was 15.18 feet. The Army Corps wants to see the lake level drop closer to 12.5 feet by the end of May.

“We were hopeful that we wouldn’t have to release water to the St. Lucie at all and we just didn’t see the recession level in the lake that we were hoping for,” said Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District Spokesman, John Campbell. “Part of that is Mother Nature and part of that is due to the lack of capacity south.”

Campbell said the Corps is hopeful for increased southern storage in the coming weeks.

Campbell said the risk for algae blooms associated with lake releases is lower in the winter months with cooler temperatures. They would rather release water now than release high quantities of water in the summer months that could be more harmful to the estuary.

The Corps is conducting pulse releases of an average of 500 cubic feet per second.

Treasure Coast business owners who rely on clean water for-profits are, once again, keeping a close eye on the water quality impacts.

Joe Tomasiello owns Sail La Vie in Stuart, a party pontoon business that takes groups around the river.

“Bachelorette parties, birthday parties, people who are coming in from out of town,” Tomasiello said. Clear, clean water provides for the best days. “We love it up here. We have a really good time.”

He knows many businesses in the area like his stand to feel the impacts of freshwater inundating the brackish estuary. The water is darker, browner, and less inviting. It means there's the risk fewer people will book his business. The drop in salinity also threatens seagrass and marine life.

"We have a lot of businesses here that rely on the water. We’ve got myself, Tiki Taxi, the Island Princess, all of our bait shops, Stuart Bail and Tackle, Billy Bones Bait & Tackle, downtown Stuart,” Tomasiello said. “The mismanagement of the water has just been terrible.”

The Army Corps cannot say how long the releases are likely to last, but they will be reviewed on a regular basis.