LAKE OKEECHOBEE, Fla. — Another week, and still no biological opinion from the National Marine Fishery Service (NMFS) when it comes to the pending Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM). The opinion was due for submission on August 30th.
NMFS investigates the impacts of water releases from Lake Okeechobee on red tide and endangered species. But this delay is slowing the first attempt in a decade to revise how Lake Okeechobee water is managed.
“We continue to stay engaged, in constant communications with National Marine Fishery Service,” said Col. James Booth.
Col. Booth says it is typical to do this type of consultation between agencies when asked if delays like this are normal.
“We are just trying to make sure we get this one closed out and worked through,” said Col. Booth.
Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation Environmental Policy Director Matt DePaolis says it's important to stick with the process
“It’s so important that we get this right, we implement LOSOM in a timely manner and we really bring about these changes that going to be a net positive,” said DePaolis
DePaolis says that once LOSOM becomes operational it will give the Corps a lot more flexibility.
“It's going to allow for decision-makers to be able to react to some of those situations on the ground that aren’t necessarily captured in a flow chart,” said DePaolis.
He describes these situations as red tides in the Gulf or harmful algal blooms on the Lake. Being able to respond in these situations more effectively may sound like a positive thing because it is. But then why the delay from NMFS?
“If we are talking about LOSOM a detrimental effect to the red tide based on the exacerbation of the current red tides that are there from these lake releases, that is not something that is only occurring in LOSOM, that is something that is only being evaluated in LOSOM,” said DePaolis. “So, to say can protect turtles by going back to the old schedule, is completely counter to what the actual science is saying.”
But to most people, those concerns might sound like common sense.
“To people on the ground, if you talk to them, they will say of course if we feed nutrients into the system, then we will have excess nutrients in the system,” said DePaolis. “But until there is hard peer-reviewed science, that’s been published.”
“I think we are moving through that process now, and it’s a painful process,” said DePaolis
DePaolis says despite the delay, he hopes the U.S. Army Corps and NMFS are working together on the opinion so that when it is eventually released, it is quick and seamless to move forward. The Army Corps continues to say the goal remains to launch LOSOM in December.