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Water releases scheduled to decrease Friday

Posted at 9:24 AM, Mar 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-04 09:24:19-05

LEE COUNTY, Fla. -- Relief may be in sight for Southwest Floridians waiting for Lake Okeechobee water releases to slow down.

Starting Friday, the Army Corps of Engineers will reduce the amount of murky water from Lake Okeechobee that's being dumped into the Caloosahatchee and Saint Lucie rivers.

Water releases into the Caloosahatchee will be reduced by more than half, and the St. Lucie Estuary releases will be reduce by about three quarters.

The water level at the lake is down more than a half foot since its peak about a month ago, according to the Army Corps.

It now stands at 15.83 feet.

“Lake levels have been falling as a result of water releases, decreased inflows, and drier conditions,” Jacksonville District Operations Division Chief Jim Jeffords said in a news release. “Although the lake is still uncomfortably high for this time of year, our water control plan calls for lower flows based on current conditions. If the lake starts rising again, we may have to increase flows; it all depends on the weather.”

The Army Corps of Engineers likes to keep the level between 12 1/2 and 15 1/2 feet year round, with the goal of getting it down to 12 1/2 feet by the beginning of the rainy season.

Scientists have warned that the discharges are harming marine life and have been impacting businesses on both coasts with ties to the water.

MORE COVERAGE: Fox 4's Toxic Water page

Last week Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in Lee, Martin and St. Lucie Counties and this week announced that the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity will immediately activate a business emergency operations center. It's designed to assess how businesses are impacted by the water releases from Lake Okeechobee.