US Army Corps plans to discharge Lake Okeechobee water to the East Coast

Any release of freshwater coming from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie estuary disrupts the delicate balance of fresh and saltwater in the estuary. For this reason, Florida Oceanographic Society continues to advocate for zero discharges to the St. Lucie Estuary.

As an organization committed to protecting Florida’s ecosystems, we recognize the detrimental ecological conditions in Lake Okeechobee due to late-season tropical weather. Hurricanes Ian and Nicole contributed to a rapid rise in water levels in Lake Okeechobee and the habitat quality of the lake is suffering.

However, environmentally sound ways to bring the lake levels down to a manageable level exist, and we are imploring the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to employ every opportunity to ensure polluted water stays out of the St. Lucie Estuary.

We ask of the US Army Corp of Engineers:

  1. Is the maximum possible amount of water moving SOUTH from Lake Okeechobee? According to the South Florida Water Management District, this week’s environmental conditions allow for water to be moved through Stormwater Treatment Area 2A to the Water Conservation Areas. How much water is planned to go south?
  2. Have all options to keep Lake Okeechobee water out of the estuary been explored? The U.S. Army Corp celebrated the completion of the C-44 reservoir and STA in 2021. While capacity testing is still ongoing, could this $339 million project be utilized to protect our waters?
  3. Can we utilize the incredible benefits of SFWMD water farming projects such as Caulkins Water Farm to store this water? Dispersed water management projects serve to store water in the most beneficial way, in nature-based storage on fallow citrus farms, a win-win for the St. Lucie estuary and farm owners. Will water be diverted to Caulkins Water Farm for storage?

And a final question for the State—when will you prioritize expanding mutually beneficial storage solutions such as this one to prevent future catastrophes in the estuaries?

The St. Lucie Estuary and southern Indian River Lagoon looked clean and clear this week. The future looked prosperous for the approaching oyster spawning season and seagrass growing season. This will be a setback for our waters and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers will be the ones to decide how far we get from realizing the goal of a healing estuary.