USACE transitions to Lake Okeechobee dry season operations
On Jan. 8, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Jacksonville District reported that it finished its transition into dry season operations on Lake Okeechobee and starting last week will target a low-level release of 1,000 cubic feet per second to the Caloosahatchee from the W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam while ceasing releases east to the St. Lucie.
The low-level dry season releases aim to manage lake levels over time while also providing beneficial flows to the Caloosahatchee Estuary.
Releases from the lake began for the first-time last year on Oct. 14 after heavy rains resulted in a nearly 1.5-foot rise in the lake over a 30-day period. Previously, the district had not released water at a rate above dry season low flows from Lake Okeechobee since March 2019 — a 19-month pause.
“We originally started releases in the fall with the intent to slow down and hopefully reverse the sudden lake rise after October saw heavy rainfall at 170 percent of average,” Jacksonville District Commander Col. Andrew Kelly said. “Unfortunately, our plans had to change in November when Tropical Storm Eta produced even more rain, especially in the southern part of the system. Despite the high-volume releases, we’ve spent weeks with the lake stage the highest it’s been for this time of year under the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule in 2008.”
As of Jan. 8, the lake was still high for this time of year at 15.71 feet. That was 2.63 feet higher than it was on the same day in 2020 and 0.39 feet higher than it was on the same day in 2018.
The district will reassess the situation in February and throughout the dry season. The February re-assessment will look at multiple factors, including lake levels, lake and estuary ecology, rainfall conditions and forecasts, the projected lake stages for the beginning of the wet season, and the risk of high-volume releases, as well as the potential for algae blooms next rainy season, among others.
The district will continue to coordinate with partners and stakeholders and develop a dry season strategy that will be published on the district Website and shared with the media.