LAKE OKEECHOBEE, Fla. — While we have been tracking high water levels on Lake Okeechobee all summer, how the lake is run and the decisions on how water is released continues to be in question. This is due to the continued delay of LOSOM or the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual.
LOSOM, which was originally scheduled to launch in June, has been delayed since March, awaiting a promised biological opinion from NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service.
Last Friday, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that NMFS failed to meet the deadline of August 30th. And now another week has passed with no decision.
“It’s a process,” said Maj. Cory Bell, Deputy District Commander for South Florida. “You know, government processes. So, we continue to work with NMFS, but we do not have a projected timeline of when we will receive that opinion.”
If you are wondering why the Army Corps doesn’t proceed without the NMFS opinion...
“It’s required by law that we ask our federal partners for inquiry,” said Maj. Bell. “So, this a consultation that is a part of the process… Anything that impact endangered species, they got a vote, they got a say, and we all got to work together to come to a resolution.”
Despite the delays, Army Corps is still hopeful to launch LOSOM in December, but any more delays could put that at risk.
That said, the Corps has been operating Lake O at higher levels this summer due to Herbert Hoover Dike improvements and some minor adjustments to the current management plan developed in 2008, called LORS08.
And as we are approaching the end of wet season, Maj. Bell says they are working through their options and will present them to the district commander, who will make the final call. The question is how much LOSOM delays could impact lowering lake levels this coming dry season.