Originally published by The News-Press and written by Chad Gillis on February 14, 2024

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Saturday will begin large-scale Lake Okeechobee releases to the Caloosahatchee River due to high lake levels and continued El Nino conditions.

“Releases are being made now to lower the lake level as much as possible before the wet season and to avoid high-volume releases, if possible, during oyster-spawning season or peak algal-bloom months,” an Army Corps press release says.

The Army Corps is targeting 4,000 cubic feet per second as measured from the Julian Keen Jr. Lock and Dam near Moore Haven.

Calusa Waterkeeper Codty Pierce said he’s concerned for the Caloosahatchee River’s estuary as 4,000 cubic feet per second from the lake will overwhelm the natural brackish conditions with freshwater from Okeechobee.

“Any time that we’re in the stress release zone for the estuary, it’s of great concern,” Pierce said. “The upper portion of the Caloosahatchee River above (the Franklin Lock and Dam) has had blue-green algae confirmed by (the Florida Department of Environmental Protection) three weeks ago, and this past week was the first time we’ve had a clean bill of health.”

“I’m concerned about what we’re going to get,” Pierce said, adding that the east coast and other outlets should be used as well. “We keep getting the short end here, and this goes back to when the river was first dredged. It’s incredible that it’s still coming back to bite us.”

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