Rep. Mast asks corps to stop releases to St. Lucie Canal

After spending weeks encouraging the people in his 18th Congressional District of Florida to speak out in support of lowering the level of Lake Okeechobee, U.S. Rep. Brian Mast of Palm City got just that. At the public meetings to discuss changes to the lake regulation schedule, Rep. Mast argued that lowering the lake level during the dry season would mean fewer harmful freshwater discharges to the coastal estuaries during the wet season.

On Feb. 22, Col. Andrew Kelly of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced a decision to increase water releases from the lake. The corps established a seven-day average pulse release of 1,800 cubic feet per second (cfs) for the Caloosahatchee River measured at W.P. Franklin Lock & Dam (S-79) near Fort Myers, and a seven-day average pulse release of 500 cfs for the St. Lucie River measured at the St. Lucie Lock & Dam (S-80) near Stuart. In addition, flow from the lake continued south. During the first 10 days of the releases, outflows from the lake (east, west, and south) during this time were 51,000 acre-feet or 16.6 billion gallons of water. More than half of that flow went south, according to Col. Kelly.

On March 11, Congressman Mast sent a letter to Col. Kelly asking him to halt the releases to the St. Lucie Canal.

“The discharges into the St. Lucie threaten far more damage than they provide benefit,” he wrote. “Over 21 days of 500 cfs discharges to the St. Lucie, we expect to receive approximately 6.3 billion gallons of Lake Okeechobee water. That is a tiny fraction of the overall outflows for this time period and contributes only about half an inch reduction in the lake level.

“On the other hand, continuing these releases now could undo important ecological recovery that has taken place in the St. Lucie since the discharges stopped last summer.”

The congressman asked the corps to send the water “elsewhere” to lower the lake.

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

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