We’re in the home stretch — and the front-runner in the quest for a balanced and fair plan for managing Lake Okeechobee is putting some distance between itself and its competitors.
During a June 22 workshop on the proposed new Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual, detailed data analysis presented by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers made it increasingly clear Plan CC — one of six under consideration — is the most equitable proposal being offered by the Army Corps of Engineers, offering benefits to most stakeholders.
The six plans (AA, BB, CC, DD, EE1 and EE2) were given scores in 10 main sub-objectives:
water supply for the Lake Okeechobee Service Area, the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Lower East Coast Service Area; the ecological health of the lake, the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries and South Florida/the Everglades; and navigation, recreation and the risk of algal blooms in the northern estuaries.
Plan CC scored no worse than third in any single category. And it was the best overall plan in terms of water supply to the lower East Coast, and recreation.
Some of the plans perform extremely well for some stakeholders, but poorly for others. Plan AA, for example, would deliver the most benefit to the St. Lucie estuary and the Everglades. But it would provide considerably less benefit for the Caloosahatchee and performs poorly in terms of Lake Okeechobee ecology.
Plan BB, backed by Florida’s powerful sugar industry, scores highest in terms of water supply — but it’s the worst when it comes to the ecology of the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie.
Army Corps officials have repeatedly said they want a “balanced” plan, one that can deliver the most benefits to the most stakeholders. As the two-year LOSOM process nears the finish line, it’s increasingly clear only Plan CC fits the bill.
But there is room for necessary improvements.
Plan CC is not a perfect solution. As with several other plans, it would keep the water level in Lake Okeechobee higher, for longer periods of time. Some worry higher water levels will take a toll on the lake ecology.
But there is a potential solution: Sending more clean water south from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades during the drier months, which would keep the lake level more manageably low as the wet season approaches.
Indeed, another plan — plan AA — would send significantly more water south during both wet and dry months. If it can be done in AA, it can be done in CC.
Friends of the Everglades, along with a coalition of other environmental groups, business groups and government partners, continues to believe plan CC — with improvements, such as provisions to send more water south — remains the best choice.
The Corps will host one more online gathering, open to the public, on June 28. Then, on July 7, each of the stakeholder agencies represented on the “Project Delivery Team” will be asked to identify their preferred plan. You can join that meeting by CLICKING HERE.
The South Florida Water Management will host its own LOSOM workshop at 10 a.m. Tuesday, June 29, at district headquarters in West Palm Beach.
On July 16, the Corps will select its preferred alternative for a new Lake Okeechobee plan.
Two years in the making, the new LOSOM playbook is crucial to the health of our waters and the future of South Florida itself.
Let’s hope we get it right.