Corps of Engineers starts Lake Okeechobee releases to benefit Caloosahatchee Estuary
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District will start water releases from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee Estuary today, Jan. 28, to help improve the condition of critical tape grasses and protect freshwater organisms. Today, the lake stage is 12.5 feet (NGVD).
The target flow of this release is an average of 300 cubic feet per second (cfs) over the seven-day period to the Caloosahatchee Estuary, measured at W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam (S-79). The Corps anticipates the total pulse release effect on the lake level to be about a sixth-of-an-inch off the lake.
The Corps discontinued water releases from the lake to the Caloosahatchee Estuary Dec. 17 in preparation for forecasted dry conditions. On Dec. 17, the lake stage was 12.64 feet (NGVD).
Though the lake remains at approximately the same level today, west coast estuarine scientists say minimum freshwater releases to the Caloosahatchee Estuary are critical to maintaining the estuary’s health, which has been declining. Freshwater tape grass, which provides nursery habitat for a multitude of organisms, is an indicator of healthy conditions in the upper estuary of the Caloosahatchee.
“We expect this release to support the natural system by helping to recharge the root-base of the tape grasses. Establishing a salinity gradient is vital to the health, productivity and function of the estuary,” said Lt. Col. Michael Kinard, Deputy District Commander, South Florida.
The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) made their recommendation to the Corps today, requesting the seven-day release in accordance with their Adaptive Protocols.
The Corps strives to maintain the lake between 12.5 and 15.5 feet (NGVD) while balancing all competing demands. Lake Okeechobee now stands at 12.50 feet (NGVD) and is in the 2008 Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule’s Beneficial Use Sub-Band, which varies seasonally between elevation 10.5 feet and 13 feet.
Within this sub-band, unless releases are required for navigation purposes, the Corps generally defers to the South Florida Water Management District’s recommendation for water allocation to various users. Fish and wildlife enhancement and/or water supply deliveries for environmental needs may involve conducting an environmental release from Lake Okeechobee through the SFWMD Adaptive Protocols or other SFWMD authorities.
The Corps and partner agencies will continue to closely monitor and assess system conditions. For more information on water level and flows data for Lake Okeechobee and the Central and Southern Florida Project, visit the Corps’ water management page at www.saj.usace.army.mil/Divisions/Engineering/Branches/WaterResources/WaterMgt/index.htm.