Gov. Scott addresses Lake O release concerns

Posted at 6:54 PM, Feb 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-18 18:54:03-05

For weeks, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been draining billions of gallons of murky water into the Caloosahatchee River, in order to reduce Lake Okeechobee's water level after an unusually rainy winter.

The Corps has approved the first step in Governor Rick Scott's plan to divert the water from the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie River estuaries to the Everglades, by draining water from flooded lands just south of the lake. When that area is emptied, it should eventually take on water from Lake O. 

"It's the right thing to do to move the water south," Scott said Thursday during a visit to Naples. "The long-term solution is, we're putting money into storm treatment hold more water."

The unseasonal water releases into the Caloosahatchee have affected the quality of the water in the Caloosahatchee and the Gulf near the near its estuary, causing an uproar among commercial fishing operators and others who depend on the waterways for tourism.  

Jennifer Hecker of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida told Fox 4 that while she believes the governor is taking appropriate steps to relieve the flow of water from Lake O downriver, much more needs to go into long-term solutions.

"That would require additional lands to be purchased in the Everglades agricultural area, and for us to build more conveyance and a giant reservoir," Hecker said.

Scott said that ultimately, the federal government needs to do its part to come up with solutions to minimize the water releases into the rivers.

"They're 100% responsible for the lake, and we have no control over that," he said.

No control over the rain, either - this was supposed to be the dry season.

"We're still going to be experiencing discharges at rates that are causing harm to our river and estuary in the wet season, so we need more pieces of the puzzle," Hecker said.

The current water level in Lake Okeechobee is 16.25 feet. The Army Corps of Engineers is continuing to release over 4 billion gallons of water a day into the Caloosahatchee River.