The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District has announced it will increase the amount of water flowing from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee River next week under authority in its water control plan to release water it held back a few weeks ago.
Beginning Monday (Nov. 18), the Corps will adjust the target flow from the lake to the Caloosahatchee Estuary upward to a 10-day average of 730 cubic feet per second (cfs) as measured at W.P. Franklin Lock (S-79) near Fort Myers. Local runoff outside the lake into the Caloosahatchee River could cause flows to exceed this target. No releases from the lake are planned to the St. Lucie Estuary, although runoff from the St Lucie Canal will be allowed to pass through the St. Lucie Lock should conditions make it necessary.
The lake stage today is 14.85 feet. The lake is currently in the Operational Low sub-band as defined by the Corps’ water control plan, the 2008 Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS). The Corps is increasing flows based on a provision in LORS allowing for make-up releases. Make-up releases are authorized when maximum allowable discharges were prevented due to downstream conditions such as basin runoff or tidal cycles. This is the first time since LORS was adopted that the Cops has used this particular feature of the plan.
“We made a conscious decision to hold back water when we reduced releases on October 21 due to the impacts experienced this summer by the estuaries, even though the water management plan authorized much larger releases at the time,” said Col. Alan Dodd, Jacksonville District Commander. “With the onset of dry weather, it is appropriate to release some of the water we held back at a flow that is beneficial to the Caloosahatchee while balancing the multiple project purposes for Lake Okeechobee.”
One benefit of the increased flows will be to help with salinity levels in the Caloosahatchee Estuary. During dry times, freshwater flows from the lake are required to maintain viable salinity conditions in the estuary. Scientists have reported that the amount of salt water in the estuary has been increasing with the onset of dry weather. The additional flows are expected to help keep the saltwater-freshwater mix in an appropriate balance for plant and marine life in the estuary. The Corps will closely monitor conditions and adjust flows as necessary to balance the competing needs and purposes of Lake Okeechobee.
“Water supply won’t be threatened by this action,” said Dodd, “the amount of water we’re discussing represents less than an inch of the lake’s water level.”
For more information on water level and flows data for Lake Okeechobee, visit the Corps’ water management page at the Jacksonville District website:
Release no. 13-092