US Army Corps of Engineers
Jacksonville District Website

Corps announces public comment and webinar on planned deviation from Lake O Regulation Schedule to reduce risk from Harmful Algal Blooms

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District
Published July 1, 2020
Photo of Sunset over Lake Okeechobee

Sunset over Lake Okeechobee

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District, announces public comment on the Draft Revised Supplemental Environmental Assessment (EA) and Proposed Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the planned deviation from the water control plan for Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades Agricultural Area, also known as the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS 2008) in order to reduce risk from Harmful Algal Blooms. A webinar to provide information regarding the proposed planned deviation is planned for 1 p.m. on July 21. Public comments are due July 30.

The Corps is proposing a planned deviation from LORS 2008 in anticipation of and following freshwater Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs), to help reduce the risk of potential concerns associated with algal blooms in Lake Okeechobee, the St. Lucie, and Caloosahatchee estuaries while maintaining other project purposes. This Draft Revised Supplemental EA is being prepared to address comments received in response to the 2019 LORS Planned Deviation Draft EA provided to the public on August 6, 2019 and to supplement the LORS 2008 Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. The proposed action occurs in Glades, Hendry, Martin, Okeechobee, and Palm Beach counties, Florida.

"This planned deviation is an important tool which provides flexibility to hold back releases when Harmful Algal Blooms are most prevalent in favor of releasing more water from Lake Okeechobee when conditions are more favorable”, said Col. Andrew Kelly, Jacksonville District Commander. “The intent is to have no net change in release volumes between the current regulation schedule and the deviation -- it’s just a matter of timing. Our goal is to be as prepared as we can be to reduce the risks associated with Harmful Algal Blooms."

It is important to note that there are many species of algae, and some species do not produce toxins. Even the species that sometimes produce toxins do not produce them all the time, and not all algal blooms produce toxins. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection tests water bodies for toxins when algal blooms are reported. If a bloom produces toxins at a certain level, it is considered to be a Harmful Algal Bloom. An algal bloom does not need to have toxins to be considered a harmful algal bloom. An algal bloom that is negatively impacting tourism, recreation or the environment in a significant way can be considered a harmful algal bloom.

The proposed planned deviation would allow the flexibility to make advanced releases from the lake to the estuaries to the east and west, larger than what LORS 2008 Part D calls for, and to make releases south, when LORS Part C does not recommend releases within the Beneficial Use Sub-band, Base Flow Sub-band, Low Sub-band, and the Intermediate Sub-band to the Water Conservation Areas (WCAs).

These advanced releases, done when the risk of HABs is low, would allow greater flexibility to reduce releases during times when HABs are present in the lake or estuaries. The cumulative volume of water released under the planned deviation would be tracked against the volume held back that would have been released under LORS 2008. The objective would be to reach a net zero balance, such that the total volume released across the annual deviation time period, between February 1 and December 1, is unchanged from the releases that would have taken place under the existing schedule. February is chosen as the earliest point to begin any advanced releases to ensure conditions at the Everglades Snail Kite nest initiation period remain unchanged under the proposed deviation.

Due to the nature of the proposed planned deviation, the Corps may not take water management action immediately upon approval of the deviation. The operational strategy in this Draft Revised Supplemental EA describes the conditions and the coordination necessary for water management action to be taken. Based on current conditions within Lake Okeechobee, it is unlikely that action will be taken immediately. When a decision is made to take action, or there are changes to any water management decision, it will be communicated to stakeholders and the public via news releases and web and social media posts, in the same manner that operational changes have been communicated over the past several years. The Corps will evaluate the performance of the deviation, identify outcomes, challenges, and conclusions in a memo to the South Atlantic Division Commander, and may request changes to or an extension of the deviation based on that analysis. The Jacksonville District may apply for subsequent extensions until LORS 2008 is replaced by a new water control plan (the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM), anticipated in 2022. The Corps may also terminate the deviation at any time.

The Draft Revised Supplemental Environmental Assessment (EA) and Proposed Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the planned deviation from the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS 2008), in order to reduce risk from Harmful Algal Blooms is available for review and comment at: www.saj.usace.army.mil/Deviations. (note: large files may take a few minutes to download).

The Corps requests that comments on the Draft Revised Supplemental Environmental Assessment (EA) and proposed FONSI be submitted to 2020LORSHABEAComments@usace.army.mil, at your earliest convenience, and not later than July 30, 2020. Please include “2020 LORS HAB EA Deviation Comments” in the subject line of emailed comments.

The Corps will host a webinar to explain the deviation to the public and allow for public comment on July 21 2020 at 1 pm. In order to improve the flow of the webinar and the experience for all attendees, we will follow these guidelines:

Webinar: 2020 LORS HAB Planned Deviation Draft Revised Supplemental EA
July 21, 2020 at 1 p.m.
https://usace.webex.com/usace/j.php?MTID=m9751821f3019d69abd065a1e8614961c
Phone: 877-336-1839
Access Code: 167 972 7
Security Code: 1300

  • All lines except those who are scheduled to speak will be muted during the webinar.
  • During the public comment period at the end of the presentation, users will receive instructions from the facilitator on how to be added to the queue to participate.
  • Those who cannot attend the online meeting but wish to provide a comment may provide comments by email to: 2020LORSHABEAComments@usace.army.mil.

The Corps appreciates the ongoing efforts of the public to stay informed and remain engaged in our projects. The feedback that we receive from stakeholders and members of the public provides important local knowledge that informs our decision-making process.


Contact
Erica Skolte
561-801-5734 (cell)
Erica.A.Skolte@usace.army.mil

Release no. 20-055