See the three southern outlets from Lake Okeechobee circled in red? Each of them represents an opportunity to remove harm from the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.
This week the Army Corps of Engineers announced its goals for improving the foundation of a new plan that will govern releases from Lake Okeechobee for the next decade, called LOSOM.
The “optimization” goals presented were the result of thousands of public comments submitted to the Corps by stakeholders across the state — including Friends of the Everglades supporters. The Corps aims to strike more regional balance throughout a system that has long catered to the powerful agricultural industry south of Lake Okeechobee.
Though we viewed the foundational plan selected as an encouraging shift in the right direction, concerns remain about the number of high-flow damaging discharges that the plan still inflicts on the west coast. We remain adamant that the new Lake O playbook won’t be successful unless it brings relief to the Caloosahatchee estuary without sending additional water to the St. Lucie.
There is a way to achieve benefits for both coasts as well as the fresh-water starved Everglades. The way to accomplish this is by sending more clean water south during the dry season, rather than stockpiling it in the lake for irrigation of the Everglades Agricultural Area — a practice that has proven to increase the likelihood of large-volume toxic releases to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee in the past. The state-run South Florida Water Management District controls those three southern Lake O outlets, so it must help make this happen.
These sister estuaries on the east and west coasts have shared years of destruction at the hands of a water management system that placed their needs last. They now share a common solution. It’s more important than ever to remain united for a plan that prioritizes public health and ecosystems.