Corps to resume releases from Lake Okeechobee on Friday

With Lake Okeechobee approaching 14.5 feet, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Jacksonville District will resume water releases this weekend as part of its continued efforts to manage flood risk throughout south Florida.

The discharges are scheduled to resume Friday (July 13). The target flow for the Caloosahatchee Estuary is a 14-day average of 3,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) as measured at Moore Haven Lock (S-77) located in the southwest part of the lake.

The target flow for the St. Lucie Estuary is a 14-day average of 1,800 cfs as measured at St. Lucie Lock (S-80) near Stuart. This means the flow will include a mixture of lake water and direct basin runoff into the 23.7 miles of the
C-44 canal from Port Mayace to the St. Lucie lock.

“Over the upcoming 14-day period, we will operate with discharges slightly lower than the limits in LORS (Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule),” said Col. Jason Kirk, Jacksonville District commander. “We will implement pulse releases with variable flows that simulate rainfall events in an effort to reduce some of the environmental impacts.”

On July 12, the lake stage was 14.48 feet, up 1.65 feet from its 2018 low which occurred May 13. The lake stage Thursday was the third highest for this date in the 11 years since the 2008 LORS was adopted. Under current conditions, LORS authorizes USACE to discharge up to 4,000 cfs to the Caloosahatchee (measured at S-77) and up to 1,800 cfs to the St. Lucie (measured at S-80).

“Our flood-risk-management decision is informed by the fact that a major breach of the Herbert Hoover Dike threatening 37,000 people around the lake could cause consequences that include damage to homes and businesses, direct damage to structures and roads, and costs to remove water from flooded areas over many months,” said Col. Kirk. “We acknowledge the multiple challenges in this system including this summer’s extensive algal blooms. Through our federal-state dike rehabilitation and Everglades restoration efforts, along with the state and local community investments to control nutrients from the lake and adjacent waterways, we are collective on the path to remedying these multiple challenges.”

Jacksonville District and the South Florida Water Management District continue to take additional steps at the southern end of the system to set conditions to flow as much water south as can be done safely.

“We have received permission to open the S-12 structures on July 13, which will help increase flows from the overfull Water Conservation Area 3A into Everglades National Park,” said Kirk. “The Water Management District is slowing flows into the lake from the Kissimmee River and other points north, and moving as much water as they can to tide and to other storage areas at points south.”

Recent developments in Washington DC have also led to progress on multiple long-term projects that will give water managers more flexibility when making decisions in the future.

“Within the past 24 hours, the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works has transmitted the state’s proposed Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir project to Congress,” said Col. Kirk. “In the past week, the Corps has allocated an additional $514 million in funding to accelerate completion of dike rehabilitation to 2022. We continue to turn dirt on Kissimmee River projects and the C-44 Reservoir. The state of Florida is progressing on the C-43 Reservoir among its many projects. All of these efforts represent critical measures to improve the current water management system and the environment in south Florida.”

Additionally, USACE leaders at Headquarters, South Atlantic Division in Atlanta, and Jacksonville District conferred this week on operations, hurricane season conditions, and measures to safely manage water in Lake Okeechobee and the remainder of the Central and Southern Florida Project.

“We reviewed the district-level water-management operations,” said Maj. Gen. Scott Spellmon, USACE Deputy Commanding General for Civil and Emergency Operations. “We are convinced that Colonel Kirk and his team, working closely with the state’s water management district, are appropriately assessing and accounting for all risks in this complex water management system.”

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