Lake releases designed to help Caloosahatchee River

EAA reservoir still ‘full steam ahead’

JACKSONVILLE — A small change in the amount of water released from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee River is designed to help the Caloosahatchee estuaries, according to Col. Andrew Kelly, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District commander.

In a Friday news teleconference, Col. Kelly said a change from the minimum flow designated by the South Florida Water Management District of 457 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 650 cfs will support the Caloosahatchee.

Water from the lake is released to the river at Moore Haven (the S-77 water control structure). The Franklin Lock is 43.4 miles from Moore Haven. For the seven-day period ending March 15, the average flow at the Moore Haven Lock was 711 cfs, and the average flow at the Franklin Lock was 364 cfs. Col. Kelly said some water is lost between Moore Haven and the Franklin Lock due to the extreme dry conditions.

“We know the conditions are dry all around,” he said. “There is absolutely water lost.” He said water is released in pulses, and “there’s a little bit of art to the science” of pulse releases. “We are guessing a little bit when we pulse and we are pretty good,” said Col. Kelly. He said the goal of the releases is to average a flow of 650 cfs at the Franklin Lock.

Col. Kelly said the change from 457 cfs to 650 cfs is not a significant change for the lake. He said it’s “no change to the way we are doing business, just a slight increase to the Caloosahatchee because it needs it.” The colonel said that when the releases were 457 cfs, salinity levels in the estuaries were rising.

Releasing water at a average of 457 cfs equates to 295 million gallons per day or about 8.8 billion gallons a month. Releasing water at an average of 650 cfs equates to 420 million gallons per day or about 12.6 billion gallons in a month. One inch of water on the big lake is about 12 billion gallons.

Col. Kelly said current conditions are due to a very short wet season in 2019 — the shortest wet season on record, followed by the driest September on record. “Everything is dry right now,” he said. “Everyone is trying to figure out how to maximize what little water there is in the system and where to put it.

“Is everything dry because Lake Okeechobee is low, or is everything dry because it hasn’t rained in a long time? The bottom line is it’s dry and it’s dry everywhere and the lake is low,” he said.

He said the corps is currently working on the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM) which will go into effect in 2022 when the rehabilitation of the Herbert Hoover Dike is complete. Water supply is one of the considerations in LOSOM.

“Lake Okeechobee’s current conditions are on a lot of people’s minds,” he said, “but it looks like the wet season is on its way.”

Algae blooms monitored

Col. Kelly said so far algae on the lake looks like a typical year.

“We have noticed some algal blooms in the vicinity of corps structures and we are working diligently with the algae task force and others,” he explained. We are monitoring the situation. It does not look like an abnormal year.”

He said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite imagery shows moderate bloom potential along the north and west sides of the lake in the shallow areas. Some “sheen” on the water has been observed near Port Mayaca, and some windblown algae has been observed on water control structures.

Col. Kelly said it’s “way too early to tell” what the algae situation will be this year.

EAA reservoir is ‘full steam ahead’

Col. Kelly said the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) reservoir project is still in the design phase and there have been no delays. Funding for construction of the reservoir is not included in the 2021 president’s budget, he explained, but that will not delay the project because they are still working on engineering and design.

SFWMD has already started work on the EAA stormwater treatment area (STA). The corps will build the 10,000-acre storage reservoir, which is expected to be complete in 2028 (with three years for engineering and design and five years of construction).

Col. Kelly said there have been some questions from stakeholders about the funding for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) projects. The assistant secretary of the Army for civil works will explain the decision to stakeholders, he added.

He said the 2021 federal budget has $250 million for CERP. “As that came down, we were told, here’s where that $250 million goes to, here’s the projects it is aligned to.”

He said the Integrated Delivery Schedule (IDS) “outlines a bunch of projects that could get done in a certain sequence if everything were perfect.” The schedule does not dictate construction funding, he continued. The IDS is updated each year. “There is no money until you get the budget,” he said. “IDS has options of things you could do if there is money.”

He said the allegations that money for the EAA reservoir was moved to other CERP projects are mistaken The money was not designated for the EAA reservoir. “There never was money for something that got moved. There were only options,” he said.

“When we got the 2021 budget, the 2021 budget described where the funding went,” said Col. Kelly. There weren’t dollars in the 2021 budget for EAA reservoir construction.

“Nothing has delayed the EAA reservoir completion,” said the colonel. “Nothing has delayed our ability to do work. We are still executing design functions. Nothing has slowed down. It’s still full steam ahead. We just don’t have construction dollars yet.”

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