By Dr. Paul Julian
For the past several years, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida team and Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) have been fully immersed in the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM) planning effort, providing science-based input into the future of Lake Okeechobee water management.
Ultimately how water is managed in Lake Okeechobee affects not only the ecology of the lake but also the downstream estuaries. The new regulation schedule, LOSOM, updates the current water management rules while attempting to balance the needs downstream – salinity and water quality in the Caloosahatchee and Saint Lucie estuaries – and more water for the southern Everglades.
In a recently published study, we evaluated how the new water management scheme can affect the ecology of Lake Okeechobee using hydrologic modeling used in the planning process. Lake Okeechobee is a relatively shallow lake and changes in water levels can disproportionately affect the system. High water levels can submerge higher-elevation littoral areas, degrade submerged aquatic vegetation habitats and redistribute sediment and nutrients throughout the lake.
Overall, the new regulation schedule is expected to cause deeper lake levels, ultimately increasing the occurrence of damaging high-stage events. Increases in the high water level events may affect the long-term ecology of the system. This study recognizes that as lake management shifts to optimize restoration efforts, restoration projects upstream of the Lake are needed to alleviate high-stage events in Lake Okeechobee and improve the resilience of the Greater Everglades Ecosystem.
The study, titled “Understanding the ups and downs: application of hydrologic restoration measures for a large subtropical lake,” was published online on October 13 2022 in Lake and Reservoir Management (link to journal). If you are interested in obtaining a copy please contact Dr. Paul Julian (firstname.lastname@example.org).