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Stopping the Lake O muck: Anger or action?

By Staff | May 19, 2010

When Lake O contained too much water between 2005 and 2007, extraordinary efforts were made to save Southwest Florida’s pristine environment, our tourism, fishing and real estate economy, and to save our quality of life.

The City of Sanibel — because we are at the wrong end of the Lake O sewer pipe — led the charge. Lee County government, other municipalities, the Governor, business and the News-Press cooperated in unprecedented ways to solve an Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) problem. Progress occurred.

Now, instead of anger, let’s take action and implement the emergency plans!


The 2006 premise was that all governments have Emergency Operation Plans. Why shouldn’t the USACE and the SFWMD? In emergencies, water needs to go somewhere other than down the two rivers until Everglades restoration and the dike repairs are complete.

Sending even 450,000 acre feet of water (approximately one foot of lake water) elsewhere can help relieve the Caloosahatchee. That much and more is possible. 

In the verbatim record of 5/16/06 Sanibel City Council meeting, SFWMD CEO Carole Wehle stated that 450,000 feet of storage capacity is available now. USACE staff stated that Water Conservation Area lands can provide additional emergency storage.

On 1/11/07, the SFWMD unanimously passed a resolution requesting that the USACE to take into consideration availability of increased water storage capacity as relief for hardship caused by dumping water down the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie. The detail can be found in a 1/18/07 PowerPoint and in the specific list of emergency storage land provided by SFWMD Project manager for Public Private Land Storage Initiative, Benita Whelan and SFWMD Operations and Maintenance Director George Horne.

Hopefully, now, three years later, this list has many added updates. To ease the concern about water conveyance and containment for these lands, SFWMD CEO Whelan committed in writing, over three years ago, that she had directed that this be a priority. Surely, the USACE, who has global experience providing rapid conveyance and containment for military missions, can help.

The 2006-7 efforts to create emergency water storage relief gained remarkable momentum. The Governor’s Office and the Legislature established the Northern Everglades district to slow water input to Lake O and to enable more storage. Governor Crist initiated the plan to acquire land for a future flow way south. The SFWMD Board is helping accomplish that goal. The USACE and other government agencies are using stimulus monies to raise part of the Tamiami Trail to allow increased water flow toward the Everglades and they are working to fix the Lake O dike.

At long last, we’re moving toward solutions. Unprecedented stakeholder agreement supports emergency water storage. Agricultural interests and interior communities shared the self-interest of the coastal communities that it was foolish to dump so much water to tide in 2006. Let’s not screw up the progress by mismanaging the 2010 challenges.


To implement this emergency plan requires that the USACE “Operational Guidance” for Lake O water releases incorporate these short term emergency water destination deviations into their plumbing system. In other words, when USACE turns on the spicket, they need to point the water in multiple directions — not just toward the two rivers. 


The letter from USACE received by Sanibel on 2-7-07 states “The Corps strongly supports the SFWMD Public Lands for Emergency Storage Initiative…the Corps has language in our new Lake Regulation Schedule Study that states both our authority and ability to provide Lake O water to these offsite storage areas.”   


Then USACE Commander Grosskruger stated in an email of 1/6/07, the crux of making a deviation in the destination for Lake O water releases “must convey intent clearly to (USACE) operations-where the daily actions take place.” Here’s the focal point for 2010 action.

Instead of lashing out in anger, let’s finish the job. Let’s implement the 2006-7 emergency water storage plans. Our environment, our already battered tourism, fishing and real estate economy, and our quality of life is at stake.