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SCCF Submits Comments on Lake O Releases

March 1, 2024
lighthouse comparison

Aerial views over the Sanibel Lighthouse on Feb. 5, 2024 (top), before unseasonal rains and releases from Lake Okeechobee that began on Feb. 17, and Feb. 26, 2024 (bottom). View more aerial images.

On March 1, SCCF Environmental Policy Director Matt DePaolis submitted the following public letter to Colonel James Booth, Jacksonville District Commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, regarding ongoing Lake Okeechobee discharges to the Caloosahatchee estuary.

Dear Colonel Booth, 

Thank you for continuing to provide an opportunity to give feedback on the planned releases from Lake Okeechobee. Stakeholder engagement is key to understanding the pressures on the communities impacted by your decisions. The proposed lake release plan for the next two weeks has us very worried. The trend of increasing the amount of water being sent to the west coast through the S-77, while decreasing the amount of recovery time granted to the Caloosahatchee estuary is troubling. Clearly, it is understood that a longer recovery time is beneficial to an estuary, as the St. Lucie estuary has seen an increase in the number of days at 0 cfs in this current plan. We, however, are being seemingly being punished for the mechanical issues preventing you from utilizing the full capacity of the system. With the minimal impact we’ve seen on the lake, we would urge the corps to sacrifice some additional time spent lowering the lake to increase the recovery time to the Caloosahatchee estuary. Additionally, it is alarming that we are now seeing planned releases over the limit provided by LORS-08, aiming for 4085.714 cfs. While 85 cfs may seem small, it is higher than the 4000 cfs ‘up to’ limit, and speaks to a larger trend of flexing the rules in a way that causes more damage to our estuaries.*

*Note: the pulse schedule has since been altered to lower the maximum average cubic feet per second to only 4,000 cfs from March 2 – 15, 2024.

We continue to ask for a true pulse schedule that acknowledges the scientific consensus that large releases require large recovery times to protect the health of our estuaries. As referenced in the report by Dr. Rumbold, modelling suggest that these should be carried out on a 5:3 or a 14:14 ratio, (release:recovery). We also ask that you remain vigilant and ready to be adaptive to any signs of increased risk of red tide. We are already beginning to see the ramifications of these releases on our coasts with turbidity increasing and the Caloosahatchee estuary being pushed well into the damaging range. Our coastal communities are still recovering from Hurricane Ian, and a harmful algal bloom now would greatly injure our coastal, tourism-based economies. And we ask for confirmation that the releases will end prior to the start of the oyster spawn. 

Thank you for remining engaged with stakeholders as you make these difficult decisions. While it is important that we get the lake down, making small gains in lake height should not come at the cost of long-term damage to the northern estuaries. 

Matt DePaolis, SCCF Environmental Policy Director 

Stay up to date with the impacts of these releases by subscribing to SCCF’s Weekly Water Conditions Tracker and Caloosahatchee Conditions Reports.


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