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USACE adjusts dry season release levels for Lake O

By USACE - | Feb 9, 2021

On Feb. 4, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Jacksonville District reported that it will reduce the planned increase in Lake Okeechobee releases to the Caloosahatchee Estuary from the original plan of 2,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 1,500 cfs from the W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam (S-79).

No releases are currently planned from the St. Lucie Lock and Dam (S-80).

The increased releases, which were scheduled to begin Feb. 6, were reduced by 500 cfs for several reasons, including the recently available potential to send more water to the south as the Water Conservation Area levels have come down and input from stakeholders and partners. Rainfall could result in higher releases than the targets due to local basin runoff. The releases will be re-evaluated regularly.

The releases are part of a September approved planned deviation from the 2008 Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule to reduce the risk of exacerbating potential health concerns associated with algal blooms in Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries during the summer.

“While our original target was in-line with recommended RECOVER ecological envelope for the Caloosahatchee, over the past week we listened to partners, stakeholders, and scientists who urged caution given current conditions, especially on the coast,” Jacksonville District Commander Col. Andrew Kelly said. “We intend to maintain an aggressive approach — utilizing the harmful algal bloom deviation approved in September — as we remained concerned about the potential high lake levels entering hurricane season and the elevated potential for high volume releases as a result. We will actively monitor the conditions and adjust accordingly including the potential need to release water to the St Lucy, potentially increase releases west, and as always maximize releases south.”

As of Feb. 4, the lake stage was at 15.42 feet, which was still 2.5 feet higher than it was one year ago, and 2.7 feet higher than it was two years ago.

“With the lake coming down, we also passed a milestone point that allowed us to stop the increased dam safety inspections we began in October last year,” Kelly said. “Our teams in the South Florida Operations Office have been on the southern portion of Herbert Hoover Dike every two weeks since the lake went over 15.5 feet. In that time, we are happy to report we found no distress or increased seepage and did not need to initiate any flood fighting efforts beyond the increased inspections.”

For more information on water level and flows data for Lake Okeechobee, visit the Corps’ water management Website at http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Missions/CivilWorks/WaterManagement.aspx.