June 11, 2020
Help Write a New Lake O Playbook
Editor's note: This month we're kicking off a new column by Publisher Blair Wickstrom. The focus will be on steps our readers can take to implement constructive changes to improve Florida's environment and quality of life. Many of the topics will align with coverage on Florida Sportsman Watermen TV or our “On the Conservation Front” department in the magazine.
Here's your chance to help stop harmful Lake Okeechobee releases to the east and west, events which have proved just as hazardous to humans as to seagrasses, oysters, fish and other coastal life forms.
As you may know, Lake releases containing microcystis cyanobacteria—a toxic, blue-green algae— have created a human health crisis in both the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the releases, has acknowledged during Congressional testimony that discharges from Lake Okeechobee containing microcystis cyanobacteria are hazardous to human health, and most hazardous where the blooms meet salt water. Research has linked long-term neurological disorders—Alzheimer's, ALS and Parkinson's diseases—to microcystis cyanobacteria and its breakdown products.
We've also seen how stockpiling water in Lake O, which leads to the releases, has starved Florida Bay of needed freshwater flows, leading to massive seagrass die-offs.
The Corps of Engineers has operational flexibility in managing releases, but for the most part follows the current
Lake Okeechobee Operational Schedule (LORS2008). LORS2008 has been destructive to human health, the economy and the environment of all three estuaries.
It's time for change. Operational change. It's time to throw out LORS2008 and bring in LOSOM (Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual) which, with your input, could favor human health, estuaries and the communities near them and not water supply for Big Sugar.
However, unless you and others who care about our estuaries' future act now, it will be Big Sugar doing the heavy writing of LOSOM. We need your input to counter the three Sugar lobbyists who have been appointed to the LOSOM PDT (Project Delivery Team) to represent the state's agricultural interests.
The new playbook is being written right now. Public LOSOM PDT meetings will be held through April 2021, moving into finalization by October 2022. You can find dates and call-in information by searching online for “LOSOM PDT meetings.”
Here are some strategies we feel should be included in the new Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual:
- Releases from Lake Okeechobee to the south should occur year-round—slow and steady and continuous. By making releases steadily over the course of a year, the southern outlets have a much greater capacity for Lake releases without harm than do the estuaries.
- Lowering the lake stage to 11 feet or lower by June 1 will provide more capacity in the Lake for the upcoming wet season.
- Send additional water south for treatment to the Stormwater Treatment Areas, during the dry season (Nov-May), and distribution to the Everglades Water Conservation Areas.
- Send additional water south via the S-12 spillway structures, year-round, into the Everglades National Park and Florida Bay to prevent seagrass die-offs due to hypersaline conditions.
- Send an optimized volume of water to the Caloosahatchee Estuary to meet its needs. As in Florida Bay, salinity issues are a delicate balance for a healthy estuary.
- In light of approximately $1 billion in repairs in the Herbert Hoover Dike, the Lake level upper threshold (HighLake Management Band) should be returned to close to the prior level of 18.5 feet.
Three estuaries, one solution. Operational change. Be heard. FS
Published Florida Sportsman Magazine March 2020