JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Sept. 18, 2012) -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District has announced it will begin releasing water from Lake Okeechobee as part of efforts to manage the rising lake level.
The water release is scheduled to begin Wednesday, Sept. 19. The target flow from the lake to the Caloosahatchee River for this release is 1,500 cubic feet per second (cfs) as measured at Moore Haven Lock (S-77). To account for runoff from other rain showers in the Caloosahatchee basin, the Corps will adjust flows from Moore Haven to stay below a target of 4,500 cfs at the W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam (S-79) east of Fort Myers. In addition to the releases to the Caloosahatchee, the Corps will release water to the St. Lucie Canal with a target flow to the St Lucie Estuary of 900 cfs, as measured at the St. Lucie Lock and Dam (S-80) near Stuart. These releases will be maintained until further notice.
The goal of the release is to slow the current rise of the lake to maintain storage capacity for the remainder of hurricane season. The release is being conducted in accordance with the 2008 Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS), the master document which guides water management decisions for the Corps. Under the LORS, the Corps strives to keep the lake level between 12.5 and 15.5 feet. Today, the lake stage is 15.11 feet. The lake is currently within the Low Operational Sub-Band, but within one foot of the Intermediate Band of the 2008 LORS.
“As a result of Tropical Storm Isaac, the lake performed as intended by capturing excess rainfall in the Kissimmee basin from the north and St. Lucie basin from the east,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Greco, deputy district commander for south Florida. “The lake has now risen nearly three feet from where it was a month ago. It’s important that we go forward with releases to ensure we have adequate storage for the remainder of hurricane season.”
No water has been released from the lake since Tropical Storm Isaac passed through the area August 26-27, although the Corps has allowed runoff from the heavy rains that has accumulated in the Caloosahatchee River and St. Lucie Canal to pass through the Franklin and St. Lucie locks. Runoff flows peaked at 10,830 cfs at the Franklin Lock and 2,600 cfs at the St. Lucie Lock during this event.
“It is our hope that by doing small releases now, we can avoid a situation where we’re doing larger releases later,” said John Kilpatrick, chief of Jacksonville District’s Multi-Project Branch, which has oversight of water management at the lake. “Tropical Storm Isaac provided a classic example of how quickly the lake can rise. Now we’ve got to manage it in a manner where we have enough storage for the remaining two months of hurricane season, have enough water for the dry season, and be sensitive to the delicate ecosystems in each of the estuaries.”
The Corps will closely monitor the releases and adjust flows as necessary to balance the competing needs and purposes of Lake Okeechobee and the remainder of the Central & South Florida Project. Public safety remains the Corps’ top priority.