Army Corps to increase Lake O water releases

Posted at 6:39 PM, May 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-27 06:17:48-04

CAPE CORAL, Fla. -- More murky water is heading to Southwest Florida. The Army Corps of Engineers announced today they will be increasing discharges from Lake Okeechobee starting Friday in response to the rapid rise of water levels since last week.

Right now, the lake stage is 14.32 feet. This is nearly a foot higher than May 17th, when water levels were at their lowest level of the year. The Army Corps of Engineers prefers that water levels are between 12.5 to 15.5 feet.

The Corps announced Thursday that the new target flow for the Caloosahatchee is 4,000 cubic feet per second at Moore Haven lock and dam.  The target flow rate had been sitting at 2,000 cubic feet per second for several weeks.
The new target flow for the St. Lucie is 1,800 cfs at St. Lucie Lock & Dam near Stuart.  That's up from 650 cfs.

"It would not be surprising to find out that the El Nino we have just gone through contained the same amount of precipitation as a typical Florida wet season if not an above average Florida wet season," said John Campbell, a spokesman with the Army Corps of Engineers.

Now, with the summer rains and hurricane season on the horizon, it could all play out again.

But experts warn the water releases could bring back the water woes of the past winter.

"Every time there's a discharge from the lake down the caloosahatche or St. Lucie, you get high concentrations of nutrients. That's what acts as a catalyst for these blue green algae blooms," said Ray Judah.

The decision to increase water discharged from Lake Okeechobee comes less than a week after the Franklin Lock was shut down for swimming due to the cyanobacteria.

Right now, the Army Corps of Engineers say they don't have a plan in place to completely eliminate releases to the estuaries.

However, they plan to evaluate the releases on a weekly basis and may change the rate of flow based on weather conditions.