Corps to Reduce Flows from Lake Okeechobee

426

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District will reduce the amount of water flowing from Lake Okeechobee beginning this weekend.

Starting Friday (March 4), the new target flow for the Caloosahatchee Estuary is 4,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) as measured at Moore Haven Lock (S-77) located in the southwest part of the lake. The new target flow for the St. Lucie Estuary is 1,800 cfs as measured at St. Lucie Lock (S-80) near Stuart. Additional runoff from rain in the St. Lucie basin could occasionally result in flows that exceed targets.

“Lake levels have been falling as a result of water releases, decreased inflows, and drier conditions,” said Jim Jeffords, Jacksonville District Operations Division Chief. “Although the lake is still uncomfortably high for this time of year, our water control plan calls for lower flows based on current conditions. If the lake starts rising again, we may have to increase flows; it all depends on the weather.”

Today, the lake stage is 15.83 feet, down more than a half foot since it peaked at 16.40 feet on February 8. The Corps will continue to monitor conditions and adjust flows as necessary to balance the competing needs and purposes for water in Lake Okeechobee.

Additionally, Jacksonville District water managers are updating the formula used to calculate water flows through the spillway gates at the St. Lucie Lock structure. When drier conditions took hold during the latter part of February, water managers noticed an anomaly. In working with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), engineers determined that the reported flows through the spillway exceeded actual flows by 1,500-2,500 cfs.

“Our reported flows exceeded what was actually passing through the spillway gates,” said Jeffords. “At our request, the USGS conducted downstream measurements at St. Lucie and we have updated our formulas for computing discharge rates accordingly. We recognize the importance of this information and want to be sure it’s as accurate as possible.”

“This is certainly welcome news for all those whose livelihoods depend on these waterways,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), a long-time supporter of Everglades restoration projects to help alleviate the need to release water from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers. “But we’ve still got work to do. We’ve got to keep the pressure on lawmakers to fund these Everglades-restoration projects that will provide a more permanent solution to the problem.”

Last month, Nelson introduced legislation to expedite all Everglades-restoration projects that the Army Corps of Engineers deems ready to begin in the next five years.

One of the projects that would be authorized immediately if Nelson’s legislation passes is the Central Everglades Planning Project, or CEPP, which is designed to increase water flow south into the Everglades, thereby reducing harmful discharges into the Caloosahatchee River and St. Lucie estuary.

For more information on water level and flows data for Lake Okeechobee, visit the Corps’ water management website at bit.ly/LakeOArmyCorps

Information provided by Senator Bill Nelson’s office and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.