New Lake Okeechobee Plan Moving in the Right Direction for Caloosahatchee
On Oct. 26, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers held a public meeting to present the results of its latest modeling analysis and discuss next steps towards finalizing the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM). LOSOM will guide how Lake Okeechobee is managed for the next decade and determines the volume and timing of freshwater discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries and Everglades.
The Corps is in the third and final phase of evaluating modeling data used to support the new lake schedule. On Nov. 16, the Corps will hold another public meeting to present the final model alternative that will be used as the basis for LOSOM.
One of the primary goals of the second-phase modeling analysis was to optimize the plans to improve performance for the Caloosahatchee. The Corps evaluated more than 240,000 new model runs during the latest phase of the process. They selected eight plans that will be evaluated further in the next step of the process. Link to Corps Presentation
SCCF and Conservancy of Southwest Florida Hydrological Modeler Paul Julian, Ph.D., evaluated the modeling data prior to the public meeting to determine which plans would provide the greatest improvements for the Caloosahatchee. Julian identified several hundred model runs that improved performance for the Caloosahatchee, while still performing well for other parts of the water management system. “All eight of the plans selected by the Corps represent an improvement,” said Julian.
“We are very pleased with the outcome of the Corps’ optimization process,” said SCCF Environmental Policy Director James Evans. “They heard the west coast stakeholders loud and clear and took to heart our pleas for balancing the needs of the entire water management system.”
Based on SCCF’s modeling analysis, each of the plans increase the time that flows to the Caloosahatchee are within the optimal flow range and would reduce stressful and damaging discharges to the estuary and coast. The plans cap freshwater flows to the Caloosahatchee, measured at the Franklin Lock (S-79), within the optimal flow range in the operational band of the lake schedule. This is an important departure from the current lake regulation schedule (LORS08) and was one of the West Coast stakeholders’ key recommendations. The plans would also limit flows to the St. Lucie in the operational band to 0 cubic feet per second. However, these plans will not eliminate all the damaging discharges to the estuaries.
Because of the way the lake would be managed under the new plans, the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie could see an increase in the frequency of our most damaging flows, but they would be limited to hurricanes and other extreme weather patterns. The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) projects like the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir and the Central Everglades Planning Project are critical to further reducing future damaging discharges to the estuaries.
The next step in the Corps’ process will be to further evaluate the eight model runs. SCCF’s scientists have evaluated the model runs and have recommended two plans that perform best for the Caloosahatchee. Read SCCF’s Letter to U.S. Army Col. James L. Booth .