Flow suspended from Lake Okeechobee to coastal estuaries

LAKE OKEECHOBEE — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District suspended water releases from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Estuaries effective this morning (July 9).

The Corps had halted Lake Okeechobee flows to the St. Lucie Estuary on June 30, but were still releasing some lake water to the Caloosahatchee River at Moore Haven.

AT 7 a.m. today, the Corps paused discharges to the Caloosahatchee to allow water managers to conduct a full assessment of system conditions.

While no water will be released from Lake Okeechobee, the Corps will continue to allow runoff from rain that accumulates in the Caloosahatchee or St. Lucie basins to pass through downstream structures.

Even though some lake water was released to the Caloosahatchee last week, most of the flow was from basin runoff. The target flow to the Caloosahatchee was 3,000 cubic feet per second, measured at the Franklin Lock. Because most — and on some days all — of that capacity was taken up by local runoff directly into the river, little water was released from the lake last week. Some days the flow was well over the target due to heavy local basin runoff. On July 8, no lake water was released at Moore Haven; the flow for that day at the Franklin Lock was 6,080 cubic feet per second, all from local basin runoff into the river.

“As we look at operations in the system, we believe we can pause discharges for a short time to get additional input from staff on available options for moving water,” said Col. Jason Kirk, Jacksonville District Commander. “We have implemented higher stages in the canal along the Tamiami Trail and we have implemented deviations to generate flexibility in operations at the southern end of the system to move additional water south. We want to ensure we are using all available flexibility before we resume discharges east and west.”

While more water is moving under the Tamiami Trail from the water conservation areas (WCAs) south of the Everglades Agricultural Area, no lake water was sent south last week. When the additional flow under the Tamiami Trail was initiated last week, the WCAs were already well over schedule. On July 8, WCA-3A was still more than a foot over the regulation schedule. WCA-2A was more than 2 feet over schedule. WCA-1 was more than half a foot over schedule. Until the water in the WCAs goes down, water from the lake cannot be sent through the Stormwater Treatment Areas (STAs) to the WCAs.

On Monday, the lake stage was 14.44 feet. The lake has risen 0.18 feet over the past week due to frequent rain in the areas over the past two weeks.

“We acknowledge the continued interest in water releases from elected officials and the public which stem from limitations of the current water management system,” said Kirk. “We will continue to work with state officials and the South Florida Water Management District to implement all possible measures to create additional options. However, we will likely have to resume releases later in the week to reduce the flood risk that a rising lake presents to people living and working around it.”

For more information on water level and flows data for Lake Okeechobee, visit the Corps’ water management website at http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Missions/CivilWorks/WaterManagement.aspx.

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