Lake Okeechobee is often referred to as the “liquid heart” of Florida. Unfortunately, over the years, the Lake has become heavily polluted by run-off from agriculture and development in Central & South Florida.
As it was designed in 1947 to avoid flooding south of the lake, the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers are the two “safety valves” of the system during high water events. Water from Lake Okeechobee is now routinely discharged to these rivers and sent to tide in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. This practice is also starving Florida Bay of the freshwater it naturally received through the historic Everglades.
In the wet season, massive amounts of nutrient polluted water is now being sent to the Caloosahatchee River. This nutrient rich water is exacerbating harmful algal blooms of increasing scope and frequency.
The federal Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for the Lake’s operation. The Corps’ operational manuals consider public safety and many other objectives set forth by the state’s South Florida Water Management District.
Minimum Flows & Levels
To complicate matters for the Caloosahatchee, our brackish water estuary thrives with a certain amount of freshwater sustaining Vallisneria tape grass near Fort Myers. When dry season rainfall is not enough to suppress salinity levels, tape grass die-offs occur.
As a result of these two seasonal swings, and water mismanagement by government agencies, the Caloosahatchee often suffers from too much freshwater in the wet season, and not enough freshwater in the dry season.
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The public will soon get a chance to see models the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been using to formulate a controversial Lake Okeechobee management plan that will be in place for more than a decade. The plan governs water releases and lake levels.
A new plan to regulate Lake Okeechobee’s water levels and outflows is nearly complete. It’s also a complete mess, or a good plan, or simply flawed, depending on who you talk to. As Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani sees it, none of the stakeholders feel duly accommodated.
“Corporate sugar isn’t the only bad actor here,” Cassani said. “The legislators do whatever they can to keep the status quo. You can hardly blame the corporate industry for taking advantage of these bought-out politicians. You pay to play and the sugar industry has paid.”
Calusa Waterkeeper has been following the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual process since it began in 2018/19. The organization and many of our members have submitted public comments throughout the process over the years. Calusa Waterkeeper has had concerns...
Federal Judge orders the U.S. Corps of Engineers to consider toxic algae when releasing water from Lake Okeechobee. Fort Myers, FL: Calusa Waterkeeper is proud to be involved with a recent win in federal court regarding the management of Lake Okeechobee and its impacts to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.
Conservation groups filed a proposal in federal court to ensure that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ discharges from Lake Okeechobee do not harm protected wildlife. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida held in a ruling that the Army Corps violated the Endangered Species Act.
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