Water rushes through the gates on the Caloosahatchee River at Franklin Locks. Photo by Eric Staats

FL -Guest opinion: The health of our region is at stake and in the hands of the Army Corps

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is in the process of updating the Lake Okeechobee regulation schedule.

The Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM) will determine how the lake is managed and prescribes how freshwater releases are made to the Everglades and Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.

LOSOM development began in 2019 and is expected to be completed by November 2022. Throughout the process the Corps has solicited input from stakeholders, including lakeside and coastal communities impacted by lake management and freshwater releases, tribal nations, agricultural, environmental groups, and recreation interests.

The USACE is responsible for managing Lake Okeechobee as part of the Central and Southern Florida Project (C&SF Project), a flood control project authorized by Congress in 1948. The project purposes include flood control, water supply for municipal, industrial, and agricultural uses, prevention of saltwater intrusion, water supply for Everglades National Park, and protection of fish and wildlife.

Water supply and flood control constraints put undue pressure on the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries as the primary outlets for C&SF Project. This has pitted east and west coast communities against each — fighting for the remaining benefits in LOSOM after flood control and water supply are satisfied.

Red tide was documented by the Spanish explorers in the 16th century. It has been present in our Gulf waters for generations, but recent data suggest the frequency and duration of bloom events along Florida’s west coast are increasing. For example, in 2018 red tide devastated our region’s sea life and economy. Based on research data from the University of Florida, $184M was lost from harmful-algae blooms in Collier, Lee, Charlotte, Monroe, Manatee, Hillsborough, Pinellas and Sarasota counties and our region made national news.

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