Corps to maintain lake flows to river

JACKSONVILLE — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District will maintain the flow of water from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee Estuary on the current schedule of releases to the Caloosahatchee River.

“The lake has been pretty steady over the course of the past month,” said Col. Andrew Kelly, commander of the corps’ Jacksonville district, in a telephone media conference on Friday. “Our intent is to continue providing some releases to the Caloosahatchee.”

The lake is about a foot lower than the historic average for this time of year.

The colonel said he plans to release the water strategy for the rest of the dry season in early December.

The corps will continue to release water from the lake to the Caloosahatchee in a pulse pattern that averages 650 cubic feet per second (cfs) over a seven-day period measured at the W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam (S-79). The Franklin Lock is 43.4 miles from the Moore Haven Lock. If there is rain in the Caloosahatchee basin to help make up the flow at the Franklin Lock, less water will be released from the lake. If the Caloosahatchee basin is dry, more water may be released from the lake.

Dry season releases to the Caloosahatchee are needed to prevent saltwater intrusion in the estuaries. Thanks to the channelization of the Caloosahatchee River and other flood control projects in the basin, that watershed drains much more quickly than designed by nature. Before the river was connected to Lake Okeechobee via a man-made canal, the lake only fed the river during the wet season when water from the lake would overflow into a series of marshes and smaller lakes that connected to the Caloosahatchee River.

No releases are planned from the lake to the St. Lucie Canal. No lake water has been released to the St. Lucie since March.

“Forecasts indicate that the conditions on the lake are likely to remain stable for about the next month and a half,” said Col. Kelly. “That means that we are still in a pretty good position, and can continue to release water to the Caloosahatchee estuary for the foreseeable future.”

Friday’s stage at Lake Okeechobee is 13.28 feet above sea level, down 0.07 feet in the last week and 0.17 feet during the past 30 days.

The corps also will continue to release water when necessary to maintain navigation levels in the Caloosahatchee C-43 and St. Lucie C-44 canals and to provide water supply.

The Department of Environmental Protection reports that according to the most recent viable satellite imagery, algal bloom potential is low on Lake Okeechobee. According to FDEP reports, a blue-green algae bloom was reported on the Caloosahatchee River in Lee County on Nov. 7 near a mobile home park drainage canal. According to FDEP tests, it was mixed algae with no dominant species in the sample. The website shows red tide near Sanibel Island, Captiva and Pine Island.

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