Comment sought on watershed plan

OKEECHOBEE — The Lake Okeechobee Watershed Protection Plan (LOWPP) was approved by the Florida Legislature in 2000 “to protect and restore surface water resources by improving hydrology and water quality for the Northern Everglades Systems, according to Ansley Marr, project engineer, Office of State Policy and Coordination, South Florida Water Management District.

On April 18 at a stakeholders meeting in the Okeechobee SFWMD office, Ms. Marr introduced an interactive website where anyone can review LOWPP and comment on the 85 projects and processes that are underway or planned.

Go tohttp://www.sfwmd.gov/lowpp for the interactive website. There is a short video with general information about the Lake Okeechobee Watershed and an explanation of the website, along with links for projects in the Upper Kissimmee, Lower Kissimmee, Taylor Creek/Nubbin Slough, East Lake Okeechobee, South Lake Okeechobee, West Lake Okeechobee, Fisheating Creek, Indian Prairie and Lake Istokpoga watersheds.

The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), Florida Department of Environmental Regulation (FDEP) and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) are tasked with evaluating the LOWPP progress so far and making recommendations for changes or additions to the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Construction Plan (LOWCP) by June. Public comment will be accepted online through May 2.

The Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for phosphorus was set by FDEP in 2001 at 105 metric tons, plus 35 metric tons of atmospheric load (direct rainfall into the lake contains some phosphorus). Most years, the load is three or more times higher than the maximum set. In 2017, due to Hurricane Irma, it was about 10 times the maximum. The website has phosphorus load data for each of the basins for Water Years (WY) 1991-2018. It also shows land use changes through 2016.
Ms. Marr said content is provided for those who want to “dive deep” into the data. She said the website is for the collection of public comments. No one will respond directly to those who comment.

Gary Ritter, of Florida Farm Bureau, asked if the website had data about the changes to the watershed before 1991. He noted that best management practices (BMPs) implemented by the dairy industry prior to 1991 significantly reduced the phosphorus load to the Taylor Creek/Nubbin Slough watershed. Ms. Marr said the website does not include that data.

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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