SCCF Urges Water Managers to Lower Lake O
There has been little change to water quality over the past couple of weeks since red tide has subsided, and flows have increased to the Caloosahatchee to 2,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). At the beginning of the month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began a water banking program that banks water that could be released under LORS08 (up to 4,000 cfs) but is held back to reduce harmful flows during red tide blooms and during recovery from Hurricane Ian.
“This tool has been beneficial for the estuary by maintaining a healthy salinity and reducing nutrient loading that could feed red tide blooms,” said SCCF Research & Policy Associate Leah Reidenbach. “But, Lake Okeechobee is still too high for this time of year at 16.42 feet, which puts it in the intermediate sub-band.”
So far, approximately 150,000 cfs have been banked, which is about 8 inches of water on Lake Okeechobee. The banked water will be used to provide beneficial releases during the dry season up to 2,800 cfs at S-79.
With a series of significant rainfall events during this week, with rain predominantly around the lake, the lake is in danger of becoming even deeper. There are many consequences of a deep lake during this time of the year.
Fast recession rates, which are bad for endangered snail kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis) nesting success, could occur if releases need to be made quickly before the start of the wet season.
“Submerged aquatic vegetation and short hydroperiod wetlands are negatively affected by high lake levels,” said Reidenbach. “If the lake level is still too high by the beginning of the wet season, we could be in danger of having another year of high lake levels with no recovery for the lake’s ecosystem.”
SCCF encourages the Corps and the South Florida Water Management District to explore all available outlets to decrease Lake levels and avoid damaging discharges to the northern estuaries.