Lake manual to consider entire system

WEST PALM BEACH — The Lake Okeechobee System Operations Manual (LOSOM) “is simply about the management of water in Lake Okeechobee,” said Col. Andrew Kelly, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, at the South Florida Ecosystem Task Force meeting on April 26.


LOSOM does not include construction of new infrastructure, he said.


“We will be able to operate Lake Okeechobee in a new way when we have the dike rehabilitation done and when we understand all of the risks,” he said.


The public scoping meetings held in February and March attracted a lot of public comments. “There are people who say there is no reason that the lake should be kept high, and there are people who say there is no reason that the lake shouldn’t be kept lower,” he said.


In late May or early June, workshops will be held in four venues. Col. Kelly said they have not yet come up with the locations. He explained that he wants these workshops to attract a mix of different stakeholders. He said they “want multiple stakeholders in the same room where we can work some things out.”


When a workshop attracts only those who agree with each other, the discussion is not as useful, said Col. Kelly.


In April or May 2022, the draft LOSOM report will be available for public comment.


The new manual should be ready to implement by September 2022. “When we get done with this, we anticipate having both C-43 and C-44 included in the manual,” Col, Kelly added, referring to the reservoirs currently under construction east and west of Lake Okeechobee.


A lot of people don’t understand the importance of the wetlands around the edges of Lake Okeechobee within the confines of the Herbert Hoover Dike, said Ron Bergeron, who was recently appointed to the South Florida Water Management Governing Board. When water levels in the lake are too high, those wetlands are lost.


Jed Redwine, with the National Park Service, reported that the old roadbed has been removed from underneath the 2.6 miles new bridging recently completed on the Tamiami Trail. He said they are ready to move more water under the trail this wet season.


Pre-drainage, about 2 million acre-feet of water per year moved through that area, he said. Currently about 860,000 acre-feet of water flows under the trail. With the completion of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, he said that will increase to about 1.4 million acre-feet per year.


“In 2017, we were at 1.5 million acre-feet crossing the Tamiami Trail,” said Mr, Redwine.


“We already get restoration level flows during very wet conditions,” he said. “The question is, what do we do with those flows?”


Currently about 80 percent of the flow is on the west side of the Everglades, he added. He explained they need to get more flow east.


Mr. Redwine said recent conditions have been beneficial to the wading bird populations in Everglades National Park.


As we work on getting the water right, we can look forward to seeing more wading birds, he said. “We are seeing some clear indications that we are on the right track.


“We only have partial control of the system. It’s important to understand that,” he added.


Mr. Redwine said the environmental plan is designed to get as much benefit as possible from the control they do have.


“Partial control, to me defines this system,” he said, noting they sometimes have to deal with drought and sometimes with flooding.


“There are environmental challenges and there are construction and planning and scheduling challenges,” he explained.


Gene Duncan, Miccosukee water resources director, said moving water under the Tamiami Trail must be the priority. He said the Everglades has been compartmentalized with berms to protect the urban areas along the east coast, and the area north of the trail has been sacrificed. High water levels north of the trail are destroying the habitat for endangered species there while the area south of the trail was kept dry six months of the year to protect one species.

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

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