More water from Lake Okeechobee is scheduled to be sent to the Caloosahatchee River, as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to increase water releases now to potentially avoid the need for too many releases during the wet season.
It’s a decision a water expert in Southwest Florida calls a gamble.
“It really is a delicate balance,” said John Cassani, the director of Calusa Waterkeeper. “Will the little extra releases be enough to fuel the red tide? Will it get the lake low enough before the wet season to avoid those lake season high-volume discharges?”
That’s what the Corps hopes for, as the lake is still high for this time of year. While the lake could drop on its own, it wouldn’t recede as much as necessary.
“Especially with the lake at elevated levels like we’re seeing now, so that we wouldn’t necessarily be backed into a corner and have to do so during wet season when the likelihood of algae on the lake is much higher,” said John Campbell, the Corp’s public affairs specialist in the Jacksonville District.
Nobody wants a repeat of the 2018 water quality crisis when thick algal blooms invaded canals.
Water quality is top of mind for Chair Commissioner Kevin Ruane in Lee County.
“Managing the lake is really important, and it’s what we do all year,” Ruane said. “Really, without projects coming online, it’s essential to make sure we lower the lake.”
While he recognizes the risk of environmental impact, Ruane too believes this is the best choice for the moment.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is in talks to start more releases Saturday. The tentative plan is to reduce flows in March. The Corps tells us, if it does not do extra releases, there’s a high risk of releases early on in the wet season.