Corps to release water to the Caloosahatchee estuary
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Jacksonville District will provide flows from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee Estuary this weekend, officials reported today in a prepared statement.
Starting Oct. 6, the Corps will target flows to the Caloosahatchee estuary at a seven-day average rate of 650 cubic feet per second from the W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam (S-79). No scheduled releases through the St. Lucie Lock and Dam (S-80) are planned at this time. However, flows at either the W.P. Franklin or St. Lucie structures could occasionally be exceeded by runoff from rain that accumulates in the Caloosahatchee or St. Lucie basins, and those flows will be allowed to pass through the spillway as necessary.
“This past month was the driest September on record in south Florida since they started tracking it in 1932,” Jacksonville District Commander Col. Andrew Kelly said. “Until recently, the Caloosahatchee estuary had been getting enough basin runoff to meet or exceed the 650 cfs base flow target at W. P. Franklin. Now that the basin is not providing the runoff to meet this target, the Corps will release lake water to supplement flows.”
Today’s stage at Lake Okeechobee is 13.49 feet, down 0.20 feet in the last week, and down 0.40 feet during the past 30 days. The Corps has not made targeted releases from the lake since July 12, with the exception of a brief 10-day average release of 200 cfs at the Moore Haven Lock and Dam to support a Corps algae research project.
“While I am concerned about the current lake level, which is lower than average after a record breaking September, this week we will – and in the future, we hope – meet the estuaries’ need for fresh water, as requested,” Kelly said. “If the drying trend continues, we will discontinue releases.”
Pool elevations along the Okeechobee Waterway will continue to be maintained by the lock operators on site. Low-level releases from Lake Okeechobee into the downstream canals may be necessary when pools get too low to maintain waterway navigability and safety, as well as provide water supply.
Corps lock operators have reported visible signs of algae in the lake near Port Mayaca over the past week. Partners at the Department of Environmental Protection report that according to the most recent viable satellite imagery, bloom potential is low on Lake Okeechobee and the estuaries remain free of bloom potential. However, bloom potential is subject to change rapidly due to environmental conditions such as wind, rain, temperature or stage. DEP toxin sampling continues, with no recent samples showing toxin detects and six results pending.