Mast introduces legislation to keep lake levels lower

OKEECHOBEE — On Sept. 4, Congressman Brian Mast, who is seeking re-election in Florida’s 18th District, announced the introduction of new legislation he calls the “Stop Harmful Discharges Act.”

If passed by Congress, the act could change the criteria used by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to release water from Lake Okeechobee.

“The Army Corps is keeping an artificially high level of water on Lake Okeechobee, risking dike failure and putting special interests ahead of the health and human safety of the communities east and west of the lake,” Rep. Mast said. “We will not tolerate mismanagement of Lake Okeechobee that results in toxic discharges destroying our community and putting people’s lives at risk.”

Rep. Mast has called for changing the lake level schedule to keep the lake lower during the dry season.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers currently manages the lake according to the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS), with lows of 12.5 to highs of 15.5 ft. Under LORS, the lake is managed for flood and storm risk management, navigation, water supply for salinity control in the estuaries, water supply for regional groundwater, agricultural irrigation, municipalities and industry; fish and wildlife, and recreation.

LORS includes a seasonally-adjusted schedule to help guide water management decisions.

The three primary bands are as follows:

• High Lake Management Band — This band includes lake levels above 16 ft. in advance of the wet season, or levels above 17.25 ft., during the dry season. In this band, operations are focused on reducing the lake level, freeing up additional capacity for runoff from future heavy rain events. Maximum water releases typically take place in this band.

• Operations Band—This band consists of five sub-bands that help guide water managers to appropriate decisions that balance the needs of all users, while maintaining a lake level in the Corps’ preferred range of 12.5 and 15.5 ft. Toward the lower end of this range, the Corps relies heavily on input from the South Florida Water Management District to assist with water allocations.

• Water Shortage Management Band – This band includes lake levels below 10.5 ft, in advance of the wet season, or levels below 13 ft, at the start of dry season. In this band, the Corps generally defers decisions on all water releases to the South Florida Water Management District.

Lauren Baer, Democratic candidate for Congress in Florida’s 18th District, released the following statement in response: “The year that Brian Mast was elected, toxic algae covered 200 square miles of Lake Okeechobee. Today it covers over 650. Mast made countless campaign promises about what he’d do to protect our water, then spent over 19 months in office without drafting any meaningful legislation to follow through. Now Mast is campaigning once again – and just 62 days before the election, he’s scrambling to take action. This crisis won’t be solved with politically motivated half-measures. We must immediately put hard limits on pollutants entering our water. We must hold big sugar accountable. We must work to authorize and fund the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and restore the flow of water south to the Everglades. We must stop the discharges and repair the dike. And we must treat this crisis, from day one, with the urgency it deserves. Any representative that doesn’t, doesn’t deserve to be our representative.”

Congressman Brian Mast

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