The Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM) is being developed by the Army Corps of Engineers and will impact the health of these waters for years to come. Lake Okeechobee’s water levels influence ecological conditions in the Everglades, the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries, Florida Bay and the lake itself. The Army Corps hosted a series of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) public scoping meetings in 2019 to determine the priorities in managing Lake Okeechobee via LOSOM. Friends of the Everglades helped to activate public participation in these meetings and worked with other like-minded organizations to prioritize human health and safety through LOSOM.
As stated by the Army Corps of Engineers, “The purpose of this effort is to reevaluate and define operations for the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule that take into account additional infrastructure that will soon be operational. The additional infrastructure that will be taken into consideration includes the Herbert Hoover Dike rehabilitation, Kissimmee River Restoration Project, as well as the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) C-43 West Basin Storage Reservoir and C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area.”
The Army Corps needs guidelines in LOSOM to ensure human health is not threatened by toxins in cyanobacteria blooms that originate in Lake Okeechobee and are discharged to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries, as witnessed in 2016, 2018 and years prior. The Army Corps’ previous protocol, Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule 2008, has been proven inadequate for protecting human health. The USACE has a duty to protect water supply and flood control — but not at the expense of human health.
The science is settled, now we need action. LOSOM alone cannot solve all of our water quality issues, but it is one substantial way we can address cleaning up our waterways.