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Army Corps adjusts Lake Okeechobee releases into Caloosahatchee

By Staff | Dec 7, 2022

The Franklin Lock and Dam on the Calossahatchee in Southwest Florida. FILE PHOTO

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Jacksonville District reported that beginning on Dec. 3, it would increase releases from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee Estuary from the W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam (S-79) at a seven-day average pulse release of 2,000 cubic feet per second. No lake releases are planned for the St. Lucie Estuary.

The Corps added that anticipates that it will have to increase releases again and will spend this week listening to stakeholders throughout the state to get their input and feedback on the best way to manage the needs of the entire system, while anticipating potential risks that may be in front of it.

Last week’s target was still within the REstoration COordination & VERification (RECOVER) optimal flow envelope for the Caloosahatchee. Water from the lake will only be released in amounts needed to supplement local basin runoff to meet the target of 2,000 cfs, and the target was consistent with the recommendation from the South Florida Water Management District for the week.

“Lake Okeechobee continues to rise due to Hurricane Ian and Nicole,” Jacksonville District Commander Col. James Booth said. “Based on conditions in the lake, we must increase releases to help manage lake levels and put the lake in the best possible position for the dry season and the next wet season. We will continue to utilize our make-up release tool which allows us to make releases at lower levels and bank the volume not released.”

Make-up releases are a water management tool within the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule 2008 (LORS08), which gives water managers the flexibility to bank releases allowed under LORS but not made in order to release them later when the schedule calls for lower releases. LORS08 Part D guidance currently recommends up to 4,000 cfs at S-77 and up to 1,800 cfs at S-80. The volumetric difference between the actual releases and the guidance will be put into a water bank. As conditions in the estuaries recover and the schedule goes into dry season mode, releases will be continued using the available volume of banked water. The intent is to release the volume at beneficial levels during the dry season. The Corps is committed to transparency throughout the implementation of make-up releases.

With the lake over 16.5 feet as of Dec. 2, the Corps has been executing inspections of the south side of the lake from Moore Haven to Belle Glade weekly and inspecting the remainder of the dike every two weeks.

The HHD was inspected thoroughly before and after Ian and Nicole, and no problems were identified.

As of Dec. 2, Lake Okeechobee was 16.50 feet. That is 0.10 feet higher than the prior week, 0.63 feet higher than 30 days ago, and 0.57 feet higher than it was on the same date last year.