The devastating 2018 Summer of Algae in our waterways is still fresh in our minds. With that backdrop, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, with the assistance of the South Florida Water Management District, is currently in the process of re-writing the rules that govern how water in Lake Okeechobee is managed (a process called LOSOM). For too long, Lee County has shouldered the burden of being the primary outlet for a flood control and water supply system designed and managed to benefit the east coast and interior of Florida.
This system permanently altered our ecosystem causing us to rely on Lake Okeechobee to balance salinities in our estuary. Despite not being a beneficiary, we are consistently asked to shoulder the largest burden of this system, accepting damaging discharges in the rainy season to the detriment of our environment, while starving our estuary of water in the dry season. Ideally, those who benefit from this flood control and water supply system would bear the negative impacts, not simply pass those on to us. To add insult to injury, our residents are taxed to maintain this inequitable system when we have flood control and water supply needs of our own.
As a newly elected County Commissioner my top priority has been to improve water quality for our community. Lee County can no longer be an afterthought in how the Army Corps and the SFWMD manage lake levels or address flooding system wide. For the last decade I have worked with the District and the Corps to balance the playing field. However, the re-write of the rules on how the Corps manages Lake Okeechobee is a unique opportunity for an immediate impact.
After the Corps released its array of “balanced frameworks” for how to manage the Lake, I reached out to the District Commander of the Army Corps to directly voice my concerns. In response, Colonel Kelly has listened to our concerns. He has also communicated with residents, business owners, and a team of technical experts who have been unified in their frustration and expectations for improvement.
While Everglades Restoration projects are ultimately the tool for achieving balance in the system, LOSOM should seek to create a more equitable system where tangible improvements to the Caloosahatchee are demonstrated. By no means should LOSOM increase the current imbalance that exists where the Caloosahatchee and the residents of Lee County continue to bear the greatest impacts for other communities’ flood control. Since his arrival in Florida, Colonel Kelly has listened and responded to our community’s needs. We sincerely expect that the Colonel has been listening to our message and responds with a plan to end the devastation of our environment.