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Army Corps to present info session

By Staff | Mar 21, 2019

Cape Coral residents will have the chance to be informed on the latest information when it comes to water quality next week directly from the source.

Mayor Joe Coviello has invited the Army Corps of Engineers to hold an educational meeting Tuesday, March 26, at Cape Christian Fellowship at 6:30 p.m. where the Corps will discuss water management practices.

Col. Jennifer Reynolds, Deputy District Commander for South Florida, will be in attendance to present information on the topics of Lake Okeechobee and water in South Florida.

A major aspect of the meeting will be a presentation on the new and developing Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM) that will replace the Lake Okeechobee Release Schedule (LORS) that was implemented in 2008.

“We deliberately renamed this water management effort because we see it as more than an update of LORS. We are developing a new product as opposed to updating an existing document. We will take what we’ve learned from more than 60 years of managing water in the lake and comments from community members around the lake and on the coasts to guide the process on developing this product,” said Army Corps Jacksonville District spokesperson, John Campbell.

Coviello said last week that the meeting is one for informational purposes, not a long question-and-answer session. It’s for education.

“This will be an informational meeting by the Army Corps,” Coviello said. “We’ve invited other water quality experts to attend as well. They will be discussing what goes into the new release schedule from Lake Okeechobee.”

Another talking point will be the rehabilitation of the Herbert Hoover Dike -expected to be completed by 2022 -which Campbell said is a driving factor in why they are developing LOSOM now.

Water quality experts have also been invited by the mayor, some being more hopeful than others on the future of Florida’s greatest resource.

“We’re positioned in one of the most optimistic times in the 25 years I’ve been doing this,” said Rae Ann Wessel, Natural Resource Policy Director for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, pointing to the projects and leadership currently in place.

Wessel said that there are aspects of LORS she would like to see tightened up in the new LOSOM.

Projects such as the Herbert Hoover Dike rehabilitation, along with Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) in motion, make things feel as if they are starting to turn in a positive direction.

Two different reservoirs are being constructed to help the watershed from Lake O to the Caloosahatchee. These projects will help clean and store water, instead of discharging nutrients, which feed toxic algae, into canals, bays and estuaries.

The EAA reservoir – being built south of Lake Okeechobee – modeling indicates that it could reduce flows from 40-60 percent.

Finding a balance between the wet and dry seasons is also an important discussion.

Federal funding is also an imperative part of the solution, with Wessel saying, “We would like the $200 million to match the State’s commitment.”

The state, meanwhile, is earmarking funds.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has called for $625 million in Everglades funding, which the House and Senate will decide on – their deadline being early May.

“DeSantis’ request falls in line with what we need,” Wessel said. “A big part of the Legislative session is up to us. We have to communicate what we want to accomplish. This is a great opportunity -time wise – to make change.”

The meeting is one of many the Corps has held across the state, and will help set the parameters on what they will evaluate and what the playing field looks like, so that LOSOM can be most effective.

This proves to be a key element, as prior LORS revisions have not been smooth or sufficient.

“We don’t know what the outcome of LOSOM will be so it is hard to determine if it will be beneficial. The lake regulation schedule has been modified a number of times in the past and there has been problems with each version,” said Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani.

He believes these harmful algal blooms are to be taken seriously when revising the schedule.

“Environmental toxins from cyanobacteria have important implications for a revised Lake schedule. The recent findings that the cyanotoxin BMAA was found in the brains of stranded dolphins as opposed to non-stranded individuals in Florida was disturbing and emphasizes the need to manage cyanobacteria blooms,” he said.

It’s a serious public issue and the public needs to be involved, officials said.

“Water quality has far-reaching implications for everyone who lives in Southwest Florida, including your property value, your health, or maybe even your job if you are employed by a tourist related business,” said Cassani.

Wessel believes there needs to be a greater focus on water as a public resource, a “natural crop,” if you will, instead of the agriculture industry getting first priority.

“We need to do a better job of sharing water in times of prosperity and in times of shortage,” she said. “There’s a big, heavy thumb on the scales, and the natural systems are taking the brunt of the harm.”

New ways of thinking, according to Wessel, who will be presenting at the Army Corps meeting, are paramount in finding a solution.

“(We need a) 21st century application of how we manage water. We have to get realistic. Our most critical resource is water. We have to do better – all of us – not pointing any fingers. We all play a role,” she said.

Cape Christian Fellowship is at 2110 Chiquita Boulevard..

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj