Q&A – What Really Changes With New Lake Okeechobee Discharge Plan

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Q&A – What Really Changes With New Lake Okeechobee Discharge Plan

Each day I feature a listener question sent by one of these methods. 

Email: brianmudd@iheartmedia.com

Gettr, Parler & Twitter: @brianmuddradio 

Today’s entry: @brianmuddradio The starving manatees can’t sue the Army Corps so can we?

Bottom Line: Well, in the grand scheme of things, yes you can sue just about anyone for anything, the question is how effective it’d be. But I get your point and hear your concern loud and clear. This is one of several notes I received from concerned listeners after the Army Corps of Engineers announced their new LOSOM plan, or Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manuel. It captured the frustration many expressed, on back of Congressman Brian Mast’s statement about the new plan. 

The good news is that under the proposed plan more water can flow south into the Everglades while less water will likely flow east and west during the summer months when the risk of algal blooms is highest. This is an improvement on the very bad status quo. At the same time, though, this plan falls far short of truly rebalancing the scales of justice when it comes to water management in Florida. Critics will say that that level of progress is impossible until more infrastructure is built, but that’s (BS).

So, what’s really changing with the new plan? It’s super complicated. But for now, the answer is nothing. That’s because the first step in this process,now that there’s a new plan is an environmental impact study. Should that go well, we’ll likely still be waiting for anything to change for a while. That’s because the new plan won’t be enacted until after the completion of the Lake O’ Dike restoration which is at least a year away. For practical purposes it looks like the earliest anything will change as a result of this new plan will be in 2023. That’s obviously not good news for our manatees and waterways generally. In terms of what’s specifically set to change as a result of the new plan. The Army Corps broke out these specific changes:

  • Eliminate lake releases to the St. Lucie under normal conditions, sending zero lake water to the East 95% of the time. Under 2008 LORS, releases east were at zero only 37% of the time and the flows could reach 1,800 cubic feet per second even in the low sub band.
  • Eliminate stressful releases to the Caloosahatchee River from Lake Okeechobee under normal conditions and provide lake flows that are compatible with estuarine ecology as recommended by RECOVER.
  • Increase flows south to the Central Everglades to an average annual of 200,000 acre-feet per year and preserve the opportunity to release water all the way to the water shortage management line in coordination with the SFWMD.
  • Provide better water supply for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the Lake Okeechobee Service Area, and the Lower East Coast Service Areas than LORS 2008 currently provides.
  • Ensure the safety of the 9.3 million people of South Florida who rely on the Herbert Hoover Dike for flood protection.
  • Provide compatible lake operations as the C-44 and C-43 reservoirs come online.
  • Reduce damaging dry downs on Lake Okeechobee.

So, what specifically does this mean for our waterways and the wildlife in them? The better news is that no matter what happens, more water will be headed in its natural direction, south through the Everglades. The rest of it is mostly subjective. As in what nature brings us in any given year. Indian Riverkeeper Executive Director, Mike Conner estimates the reduction in eastern discharges will only be 35%. That remains to be seen and is determined largely by water levels at Lake O’. I’ll break down the view of the possible using last year’s release schedule. 

The Army Corps of Engineers used “high-volume” discharges for three consecutive months starting October 14th. If the new framework were in place last year, there would have been a 58% reduction in eastern discharges for nine and a half months of the year with no change for 2.5 months of the year (which continued for another two weeks entering this year). More optimistically, last year brought an unusually high level of rainfall to our state – so that’s a view of a high impact year. If we were to have a year under completely “normal” conditions there would be 2.5 times less water being discharged into our waterways compared to what’s happening today. The real goal needs to be a complete elimination of east-west discharges, but this is meaningful progress, even if a bit disappointing. 

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