The U.S Army Corps of Engineers shares the concerns of local, state and federal health experts concerning the toxicity of the harmful fresh water algal blooms on Lake Okeechobee and in Florida’s waterways. Water quality is one of the critical considerations we integrate into our decision making as we work to balance the multiple and varied interests surrounding Lake Okeechobee water management.
As USACE gets closer to selecting the preferred alternative in the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual study, we understand it is important for stakeholders to advocate for their interests. Our role is to gather and listen to the input from all stakeholders and develop a balanced plan that meets all of the objectives of the study.
We appreciate and encourage the discussions about this project and continue to receive amazing public participation from stakeholders across the state. However, those passionate discussion have led to some assertions about USACE actions that we feel the need to clarify.
My team in the Jacksonville District developed some frequently asked questions that you can find at https://www.saj.usace.army.mil/LakeO, but there are some points I want to highlight.
During this dry season, we maximized our current authorities to remove water to lower the lake before rainy season begins. We continue to carefully manage flows into the estuaries with the best input of Florida’s scientists and engineers.
We will continue to move as much water to the south as the storm water treatment areas can handle, and we continue to work closely with the state, which has done a phenomenal job of finding ways to move more water south.
We are committed to doing everything within our authorities to help Florida deal with their water quality challenges. We avoid releases when the risk of toxins on the lake or in the estuaries is high, however, nature always gets the final vote on when water releases must occur.
We must keep life safety in mind, if the lake reaches dangerous levels during hurricane season, USACE has no choice but to release water to the estuaries, to prevent a repeat of the 1928 hurricane that killed 2,500 people near Lake Okeechobee.
We join the state of Florida in continuing to invest long-term solutions with ecosystem restoration and research and development capabilities. All to restore the Everglades and limit releases into Florida’s other estuaries.
We will continue to seek public participation and feedback to our operations and our future plans, and we will continue to do our best to balance the project purposes of Lake Okeechobee as well as the objectives of the LOSOM study.
We strive to avoid high-volume releases to the estuaries whenever possible, provide water to the Caloosahatchee when needed in the dry season, and maximize releases south when it is beneficial to the Everglades and is practical and advantageous to meeting the Lake Okeechobee water management project purposes.
That is our mission, and we will continue to execute it.
Col. Jason E. Kelly, PMP, is Commander, South Atlantic Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.