The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District will reduce Lake Okeechobee releases to the Caloosahatchee River to 1,500 cubic feet per second (cfs) as measured at the W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam (S-79) beginning Saturday while making no changes to the current 500 cfs flow out of the St. Lucie Lock and Dam (S-80) that began March 6.
The current releases of 2,000 cfs from the S-79 began Feb. 12 as part of a planned deviation approved in September 2020 to reduce the risk of lake releases during the rainy season when harmful algal blooms are more likely to be present. The deviation has released about 67,000 acre feet of additional water from the lake since it began.
Today, the lake stage is at 14.67 feet. The lake has fallen 0.74 feet in the past 30 days, but is still 2.55 feet higher than it was one year ago and 2.53 feet higher than it was two years ago. Rainfall could result in higher releases than the targets due to local basin runoff. These releases will be re-evaluated regularly.
“After several months of holding steady, the lake began to recede in the past few weeks, and we anticipate that to accelerate from increased evapo-transpiration and dry conditions as we move further into the dry season,” said Col. Andrew Kelly, Jacksonville District commander. “We are managing the recession rate in accordance with the harmful algal bloom deviation. A recession rate higher than one-half foot per month negatively impacts nesting bird populations, which have seen a great rebound this year. In particular, we have seen snail kites nesting after several years absence.”
Recently, water users have taken more water south, and the southern portion of the system has begun to return to more normal levels after a very wet Fall of 2020 limited the flows south earlier this dry season.
USACE operators at the Port Mayaca Lock and Dam (S-308) reported small pockets of algae in several of the still water areas of the locks, though the area affected is not widespread and recent satellite images show current lake conditions are not favorable for development of harmful algal blooms. USACE has requested its partners at Florida Department of Environmental Protection to test samples from the area and will continue to monitor conditions for any changes in bloom conditions.
USACE staff have not reported algae at any other district structures and facilities during the normal daily checks.
For more information on water level and flows data for Lake Okeechobee, visit the Corps’ water management website at http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Missions/CivilWorks/WaterManagement.aspx.