The Latest on Lake Okeechobee Releases

October 13, 2020

Lake Okeechobee just hit the 16 foot mark last week, which triggers another section of the operations that guide how the Army Corps of Engineers manages Lake Okeechobee levels and how and when they release water to the estuaries. On Wednesday, October 14, the Army Corps confirmed they will begin releases to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries, targeting flows of 4,000 cfs at S-77 in the Caloosahatchee and 1,800 cfs at S-80 in the St. Lucie. Both quantities of water are in the harmful range for the estuaries, especially because there’s been so much rain in the local watersheds over the past weeks. For example, the Caloosahatchee has been in a damaging range for over 30 days just from runoff within the area surrounding the river — and prolonged periods of time with too much freshwater in the estuary detrimentally changes the saltwater/freshwater interface that is critical to keeping estuaries healthy.

The announcement is also raising concerns along both the west and east coasts because the latest satellite images show a blue-green algae bloom in the middle of the Lake which could be transported downstream when releases occur, and sampling data from October 6/7 timeframe show the presence of microcystin toxins.

We are approaching the end of the rainy and hurricane seasons and the Corps has up until now avoided large volume releases to the estuaries this rainy season, and the Conservancy appreciates the Army Corps’ thoughtful management approach over the past months. However, the Conservancy and other stakeholders continue to strongly urge the Army Corps to limit the amount and duration of any harmful discharges to the downstream estuaries, especially in light of the algal bloom in the Lake and impending start of the dry season, which is predicted to be drier than normal.

Visit the Conservancy’s website to learn more about the Ripple Effect of harmful discharges and the projects and other solutions needed to protect the Caloosahatchee and send water south to the Everglades.

Speaking of Key Projects: Reservoir Progress Reports

C-43 West Basin Storage Reservoir and Water Quality Treatment Component Feasibility Study

Almost exactly one year ago Conservancy staff participated in the groundbreaking for the C-43 West Basin Storage Reservoir located in Hendry County just south of State Road 80 along the banks of the Caloosahatchee.

This critical storage reservoir is about the size of the City of Naples and will hold 170,000-acre feet of water which will be collected over the rainy season and then released back out to the Caloosahatchee during the dry season when the river desperately needs more freshwater. The Caloosahatchee can quickly swing from not enough water in the dry season to too much during the rainy season, underscoring the need for major storage projects like the C-43 reservoir and water management policy that better balances and prioritizes the needs of the ecosystems and natural resources that underpin our economy.

Some key milestones achieved in the past year include:

Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir

The Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir has also made great strides over the past year. The EAA Reservoir will be located south of Lake Okeechobee and is key to storing, treating, and sending water south to the Everglades and will simultaneously help reduce the damaging discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie by around 50 percent. The South Florida Water Management District has been expediting the project from the state-side, and Everglades restoration projects like the EAA Reservoir received significant funding on both the state and federal levels in FY20–21.

Some key milestones achieved in the past year include: