When Captains For Clean Water was founded in 2016, our tagline was ”Three estuaries. One solution.” And that could not be more true today.
As the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers defines the parameters for a new Lake Okeechobee operational schedule between now and July 2021, stakeholders from the affected estuaries and communities are standing united in our desire to send water south to mitigate impacts to both the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers.
The new operating manual, called LOSOM, will replace the current flawed operating system and provide a new framework for how the Corps manages the lake for the next decade. Depending on how it’s written, LOSOM has the ability to offer near-immediate relief to the estuaries, so it’s critical that the Corps gets it right.
The Corps recently narrowed down the proposed models to five variations, each of which favor a different part of the system — one was even written by lobbyists for the sugar industry.
This scenario is gold for special interests who benefit from creating division and confusion among stakeholders. They drive a wedge by making it an “east versus west versus south” scenario where nobody wins.
But we’re laying a new scenario on the table. One that unites, not divides. One that benefits the whole system and not just one component.
Together with Congressman Byron Donalds (R- District 19), Congressman Brian Mast (R- District 18) and a handful of environmental and conservation groups from coast to coast, we came together and collaborated on an equitable, science-backed solution for all.
We sent this letter to the Corps saying, “here’s what we want, plain and simple.” Without getting into the complexities of the proposed LOSOM plans, we are urging the Corps to adopt an improved version of alternative plan CC. We want it modified to send the maximum amount of water to the Everglades, Everglades National Park, and Florida Bay during the dry season and eliminate harmful discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries and the Lake Worth Lagoon.
By sending water south in the dry season, you create more capacity in Lake Okeechobee for the summer rains so it doesn’t have to go east or west. The east coast doesn’t want the water at all and we don’t want it in the wet season when the Caloosahatchee gets plenty of beneficial low-volume flows from our local watershed.
We’re asking the Corps to use the system as a whole rather than just using east and west estuaries as release valves.
This operational change with LOSOM can help with the toxic algae blooms, salinity imbalances, and all those excess nutrients that fuel red tide. This solution provides benefits to all estuaries in south Florida — the east and west coasts all the way down to Florida Bay and the Florida Keys.
There are really three main components to our water quality here in Florida. Nutrient pollution, infrastructure, and operations. This LOSOM conversation is the operations piece, focused on how we use the existing infrastructure to the best of its ability and to benefit the whole system.
Ensuring we have a plan that’s compatible with the billions of taxpayer dollars the state has already invested in this infrastructure — it just seems like the right thing to do.
While we’re working on long term solutions, It’s critical that we leverage operations to get that water flowing south where it needs to be, providing immediate relief and benefits to the entire connected Everglades system and preventing another toxic summer across south Florida.
Captain Daniel Andrews is Executive Director, Captains For Clean Water.