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FL - Guest Commentary: Corps Steps Down Harmful Lake Okeechobee Releases

In a much-anticipated decision on Dec. 3, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that it would begin cutting back freshwater releases to the Caloosahatchee from Lake Okeechobee.

This was not only welcome news for the Caloosahatchee estuary, which has received ecologically damaging flows for the past three months, it is also good news for the coastal communities impacted by the releases.

The Corps’ plan will cut back flows from the lake over a two-week period. Beginning Dec. 5, average flows were reduced from 4,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) measured at the Moore Haven Lock (S-77) to 3,000 cfs. Beginning Dec. 12, discharges will be further reduced to 2,000 cfs measured at the Franklin Lock (S-79). Once flows drop below 2,100 cfs, they are considered to be in “optimal range” according to ecological targets established for the estuary.

During the past three months, conditions throughout the mid and lower Caloosahatchee estuary have been poor for oysters and seagrasses, putting stress on the organisms that form the basis of the estuarine food web.

These organisms are resilient and can recover if provided suitable conditions for a period long enough to support recovery. However, if high flows continue, or if flows are cut back too much during the dry season, these organisms can lose their resiliency and ability to recover.

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