Army Corps adjusts Lake Okeechobee releases
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Jacksonville District reported that it would reduce Lake Okeechobee releases at the W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam (S-79) from the current 2,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 1,500 cfs beginning on May 15.
The releases will also change from a steady flow to a pulse release to flush the lower end of the system, raise salinities and help combat the formation of algae.
As of today, the lake is at 13.61 feet, which is 0.26 feet lower than last week and 0.63 feet lower than 30 days ago. While the lake is still 2.53 feet higher than last year on the same date, current projections show it is possible the lake will be between 13-13.5 feet on June 1, a significantly lower level than January projections of 14.5 feet or higher at the start of rainy season.
“We believe this change to lower-level pulse releases has a good chance of helping combat algae formations in the upper estuary,” Jacksonville District Commander Col. Andrew Kelly said. “We are certainly still concerned about the lake being high for this year, but we think the potential benefits of attempting to reduce algae right now outweighs the benefits of getting more water off the lake at this point.”
While researchers are still studying the role of higher salinity on algae survival and formation, the current science indicates that the blue-green algae in the system is not particularly salt tolerant. After consulting with partners from the South Florida Water Management District, the Army Corps agreed to take action to reduce freshwater releases and attempt to flush higher salinity water into the upper estuary to help reduce the algae that is forming there.
The Army Corps will continue to post warning signs at its structures and facilities as directed by county health departments and will continue to follow closely reports from its partners at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection as it monitors algal blooms and tests for microcystin.