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Corps of Engineers starts another Lake Okeechobee release to benefit Caloosahatchee Estuary

By Staff | Feb 18, 2011

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District

will continue water releases from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee

Estuary to help improve estuarine conditions, which have declined in recent

months due to the lack of sufficient freshwater. A new water release starts

tomorrow, Feb. 18.

The target flow of this release is an average of 300 cubic feet per

second (cfs) over a seven-day period to the Caloosahatchee River 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.

Today, the lake stage is 12.34 feet (NGVD).

“We are seeing a slight improvement of the Caloosahatchee Estuary –

that’s to say its health is no longer declining as rapidly as it was. We

will provide another release of freshwater to the estuary so these benefits

continue. The mixing of this freshwater with seawater establishes salinity

levels that are essential to Caloosahatchee’s estuarine health, productivity

and function,” said Lt. Col. Michael Kinard, deputy district commander, south


The release will provide much needed support to the natural system,

while minimally impacting Lake Okeechobee’s water level, Kinard said.

Estuarine scientists say minimum freshwater releases to the

Caloosahatchee River are critical to maintaining estuarine health and

productivity. Freshwater tape grass, which provides important food and

nursery habitat for a multitude of organisms, is an indicator of conditions

in the Caloosahatchee’s upper estuary. Corps officials expect this week’s

low volume release to continue prolonging the benefit of lowered salinities,

reducing additional impacts and degradation of the freshwater tape grass and

other submerged aquatic vegetation.

The Corps strives to maintain the lake between 12.5 and 15.5 feet

(NGVD) while balancing all competing demands. At 12.34 feet (NGVD), Lake

Okeechobee’s level 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 the lake through the

SFWMD Adaptive Protocols for Lake Okeechobee Operations or other SFWMD


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/