Momentum continues to improve Lake O

By Scott Martin
World Champion Angler

LAKE OKEECHOBEE — For Lake Okeechobee, 2019 was an important year. Over the course of the year, the lake hosted more than 100 tournaments — big and small, out of every marina on the lake. Fortunately, a drier than normal wet season resulted in some grass recovery on the lake, fewer discharges to the coasts, and anglers from around the world fished and caught the trophy bass of a lifetime.

Thankfully, our efforts to restore Lake Okeechobee by slowing the flow of water into the lake received a major boost as the Florida Legislature and Governor Ron DeSantis committed $50 million to begin work on the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Plan (LOWRP) at the lake’s source to the north. Following the approval of this critical funding, I was happy to hear the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board discuss the project and ultimately support it. At that November board meeting, District Executive Director Drew Bartlett committed publicly to sending a letter confirming the agency’s support to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This letter is needed for the federal government to authorize the project and ensure it receives federal funding like the other planned water projects designed to improve our shared water system.

Water storage and treatment north of Lake Okeechobee is critical to stopping the flow of excess water into the lake which often results in the corps of engineers having to make harmful discharges that sadly impact coastal communities like Fort Myers and Stuart. More than 95 percent of the water and nutrients in Lake Okeechobee originate in the lake’s northern watershed. Since our system currently has no storage or treatment projects to handle that water, the time has come for the state and federal government to begin working on this plan. According to the SFWMD, the project will help to reduce coastal discharges by up to 80% when completed along with other planned projects.

In terms of Lake Okeechobee management, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to lower the lake into the water shortage band last year should be the exception, not the rule. In the dry season months where the Army Corps was discharging more water than normal, some of the most well-attended and popular fishing tournaments were happening on the lake. Any decision to permanently lower Lake Okeechobee during those months annually would threaten Lake Okeechobee fishing and hurt the lake’s ecosystem during spawning and plant regrowth periods when it needs water in the lake the most.

This past New Years, I had the unique opportunity to host Donald Trump, Jr. on Lake Okeechobee and explain to him the importance of “Slowing the Flow.” Like the thousands of others who come to fish Lake Okeechobee every year, Donald was amazed at the lake’s vast biodiversity as well as the size of the bass that call it home. He committed to join us in our fight to slow the flow — realizing that helping Lake O will also help stop coastal discharges.

We are hopeful that a new year will bring continued progress in building additional support for the lake we love. Lake Okeechobee’s fishing community has tremendous faith in our district, state and federal leaders, and we appreciate their ongoing support.

Lake Okeechobee is a treasured resource, and we hope to continue to address these complex water issues, such as water storage and over spraying of aquatic vegetation which impact nearly all of South Florida. Working together, we will continue to make Lake Okeechobee and solutions for the coastal estuaries a priority.

Scott Martin is a World Champion angler with over $3 million in winnings. Scott is also the host of the Scott Martin Challenge on Discovery Channel. He grew up fishing on Lake Okeechobee and resides in Clewiston with his family.

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