News & Events for Chesapeake Bay

DeSantis to Trump: Make Army Corps keep Lake Okeechobee level lower to curb discharges

Date Posted: 2019-02-05
Source: Lisa SUhay, News Editor

Editor's Note: For more information see Waterway Guide Nav alerts and FL: Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual, public input requested.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has asked President Donald Trump to curb Lake Okeechobee discharges by instructing the Army Corps of Engineers to keep the water level lower during the dry winter season, according to a report in the Treasure Coast Palm.

The average depth in the winter for Lake Okeechobee is approximately 12 feet. This level provides marginal navigation depths (see the second link). A proposal to lower the winter stage to 10 feet would make the crossing the lake very risky for many, and impossible for some pleasure craft. Thus, it is critical that boaters provide their inputs into the operating manual study.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District invites the public to provide scoping input on the development of the new Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM).

A series of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) public scoping meetings will be held throughout south Florida during the month of February and public scoping comments will be accepted until March 31, 2019. At this point in the process, it is critical we hear about concerns and priorities from the public," said Lt. Col. Jennifer Reynolds, Deputy Commander for South Florida.

Some of the questions being asked include: What issues are important to you? What study outcomes do you want to see? How would you measure success? What solutions would you like us to consider? These are some of the important questions we need to explore, and we want to hear your thoughts.

On the federal level, Trump was "receptive," and the governor and president are working on getting the directive through, DeSantis said at a news conference in Naples. 

"Boy, it would be so much easier to tackle this if we didn't deal with the discharges this summer," DeSantis said, presumably referring to Florida's water crises, including toxic red tide and blue-green algae blooms that plagued the east and west coasts in 2018. 

The strategy echoes what U.S. Rep. Brian Mast first advocated in 2018: Keep the lake level at about 10.5 feet, which is about 2 feet lower than the 12.6-foot-level the Army Corps aims for by June 1, to prepare for the summer wet season.

The Army Corps has been skeptical of that plan, stating that a stronger dike doesn't necessarily mean it's safe to keep the lake level higher. A dike breach could flood towns around the lake such as Pahokee, South Bay, Belle Glade and Clewiston, according to TCPalm reports.

Some scientists have said Lake Okeechobee's ecosystem could suffer from lake levels that are too high or low.

"If you go with the Army Corps of Engineers' rule of thumb that the lake needs to stay between 12½ feet and 15½ feet, the lake will do fine," Paul Gray, Audubon Florida's Lake Okeechobee expert, told TCPalm in August.

  • Comment submitted by Jim Shipp - Thu, Feb 7th

    We cruise from the East coast to the West coast via Okeechobee each year and stay at the Pink Shell for s month. We spend a lot of money at Ft Myers Beach. We would not be able to take this route if the water level was any lower. If the lake level is reported 12.5 ft we only have about 6.5 ft of depth. Our boat draws 5 ft.

  • Comment submitted by Wayne - Wed, Feb 20th

    The green pond scum is unacceptable both visually and finanancially. If lowering the water during the dryer months to prevent excess water release during rain months is a viable it!  We can cross the state in our boat through Marathon. 

  • Comment submitted by Donna Raimondi - Wed, Feb 27th

    We cross east to west to stay in Sarasota during Feb. and March, then west to east midMarch on the way home up north. Our trawler draws 4.5 feet and it would be difficult in such shallow water. Going around the keys adds too much time to our trip, so we would have to stop coming to Florida altogether as the trip wouldn’t be worth it without Sarasota.

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