Corps plans ‘deviations’ to prevent releases when cyanobacteria is present

OKEECHOBEE — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to use “deviations” to the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS) to reduce releases of lake water through the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries if there are cyanobacterial blooms in the lake.

In a July 21 webinar, Savannah Lacy, of the USACE Jacksonville District Water Management Section, said the corps may make releases higher than the LORS schedule calls for during periods in which there are no cyanobacterial blooms to prevent the need to make releases at times cyanobacterial blooms are a problem.

“Anything we release over LORS will be banked,” she explained. “We will be able to use those releases we banked when there are algal blooms.”

In regard to releases south, Lacy said the corps is still bound to the schedules for the Water Conservation Areas. That will not change.

The maximum release to the Caloosahatchee would be 2,000 cubic feet per second. The maximum release to the St. Lucie would be 730 cfs.

She said they do not anticipate making any deviations in 2020.

Concerns about cyanobacteria are just one piece of the decision-making process, she explained.

She said other constraints would ensure they would make no releases that would impact the Everglades snail kite nesting periods. There will be no releases if the lake is below 12 feet unless the lake is rising.

No releases will be made if below-normal rainfall is forecast.

All releases south will be contingent on Stormwater Treatment Area capacity and canal capacity.

“Releases to tide up to 2,730 won’t cause harm to the estuaries based on known performance standards,” she continued.

“This is not a plan to deliberately lower lake levels,” stressed Lacy. “We will likely will not implement deviation in 2020, due to timing and due to the lake levels.”

During the public comment period, Newton Cook of United Waterfowlers Florida said managing lake is relatively easy to do in a normal year or a dry year.

“Do not take that lake down every year below 11 feet,” he said. “If you do that, you will destroy the lake. There will not be any submerged aquatic vegetation left. All that will be left is willow flats.

“We do want to keep the lake below 16 feet or 15 feet,” he continued, adding the 12-15 feet schedule is the healthiest for the lake’s ecosystem.

“If the lake is not healthy, the entire system suffers,” he said.

“I remain concerned we are going down the road by attempting to solve one disaster by creating another disaster,” said Ryan Rossi of the South Florida Water Coalition.

He said 8 million South Florida residents depend on Lake Okeechobee for their water supply.

Algae blooms are a serious problem, he said, but water shortages are also serious problems. “I don’t believe South Florida’s water supply is being treated with the same level of urgency,” he added.

“My concern is about whether or not we can accurately forecast and base all of this on what might happen,” said Nyla Pipes of One Florida Foundation. “We forecast things and get them wrong.

“We don’t always know what those rainy seasons are going to bring.”

She said problems in estuaries are not just with algal blooms.

“We’re not looking at less releases necessarily. We could be looking at more,” she said. “I’m not sure our forecasting ability is really there to do this the way the models show.”

The Corps requests that comments on the Draft Revised Supplemental Environmental Assessment (EA) and proposed FONSI be submitted to 2020LORSHABEAComments@usace.army.mil, at your earliest convenience, and not later than July 30, 2020. Please include “2020 LORS HAB EA Deviation Comments” in the subject line of emailed comments.

More information is available online at https://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Deviations/

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