Army Corps of Engineers Colonel Andrew Kelly was in Fort Myers Monday to take some heat for the plan the Corps has chosen to manage the lake over the next 10 years.
Kelly spent some time in the early afternoon with Captains for Clean water (Daniel Andrews and Chris Wittman) in a Q&A session to discuss the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual
LOSOM will give guidance for the next 10 years and help make decisions on what to do with water, including the how, when and where to release it.
Colonel Kelly started with a review of what has taken place thus far in the process, provided some dates on upcoming milestones, then discussed the current baseline plan “CC” and what will happen next as they look to optimize the plan to achieve balance within the system.
The new plan is scheduled to go into effect for a “seamless transition” coinciding with the completion of the Herbert Hoover Dike repairs targeted for Dec. 2022. The last 2+ years have been spent figuring out the best way to manage the Lake and the three outlets for water (West-Caloosahatchee river, East- St. Lucie, and South- through the Everglades to Florida Bay).
The process included running hundreds of thousands of models, narrowing it down to 5 and most recently choosing one alternative, “CC”, as a baseline to work from. “CC” was chosen as the “preliminary version of what the best look of balance is like.” It “takes advantage of the water availability that the H.H. Dike repairs help, maintains some of the ecology, and has a focus on water South and to the estuaries both East and West” stated Col. Kelly.
Currently they are taking feedback from stakeholders “looking to make CC even better” as they move into iteration 3 or optimization which will go on during August through September. Captains for Clean water added their feedback saying it’s a “great start” and the “good thing is CC gives water to the Caloosahatchee during the dry season” when it’s needed. They went on to advocate for their two main points, decreased overall volume especially “the stressful and high volume discharges to the Caloosahatchee” and “as much water flowing south to Florida Bay as we possibly can”. Col. Kelly agreed stating “ideally water should go south” and in reference to CC and West Coast concerns he went on to say that “CC absolutely benefits the Caloosahatchee but there are the high volume release points that are perhaps too tough to swallow for the West Coast stakeholders”.
Once the “optimization” of CC is finished which will include another round of modeling, they will begin actually writing the manual that will guide release decisions. Following that an Environmental Impact Statement draft will be completed by February 2022 with a final decision in November of 2022.
There was time at the end of the discussion for questions some of which questioned the lack of releases to the St. Lucie river. In response Col. Kelly replied “CC suggests higher volume flows to the St. Lucie when you get into the upper end of the spectrum, when the lake level gets higher, especially in the wet season there are absolutely flows to the St. Lucie.” “CC wasn’t the #1 best thing for anything but it scored in the top 3 in 10 out of 11 metrics”. “It’s the best at balance”.
Colonel Kelly encouraged people to “keep talking about the things you need to see that would help and we will try to solve what we know is constantly an issue.” Captains for Clean water also encouraged all to “keep their foot on the throttle” continuing to provide feedback on the development of this very important manual. “Don’t make this the last thing you do make it the first”
Watch the full Captains for Clearn Water video HERE.