Stuart, Fla. – U.S. Congressmen Brian Mast (FL-18) and Byron Donalds (FL-19)—along with community leaders from west, east and south of Lake Okeechobee—are calling on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to seize the once-in-a-decade opportunity provided by the re-write of Lake Okeechobee’s regulation schedule to pick a balanced plan that sends more water south and eliminates harmful discharges to the St. Lucie, Caloosahatchee, and Lake Worth Lagoon.

“As the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers defines the parameters for a new operational schedule for Lake Okeechobee between now and July 2021, [we] urge you to adopt a more equitable operational plan that strives to send the maximum amount of water to the Everglades, Everglades National Park, and Florida Bay during the dry season and eliminate harmful discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries and the Lake Worth Lagoon,” states the letter to Colonel Andrew Kelly. “This water belongs to all Floridians, and optimizing freshwater flows during the dry season will expedite restoration benefits, aid in conservation efforts on federal lands, and protect the largest constituencies and economies in the watershed.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers currently determines when to discharge water to the east and west of Lake Okeechobee using a document called the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS). This outdated and harmful regulation schedule is based on data from more than a decade ago and causes serious damage to communities on the west and east coasts of Lake Okeechobee through frequent discharges of toxic water. 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently revising this schedule (now called the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual).  The Army Corps has narrowed down the selection to five plans, known as Alternatives AA through EE, and is expected to select a final plan this July.  The new plan will be in effect for approximately the next decade. 

The letter calls on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to adopt an improved version of Plan CC that includes the following goals: 

  • Adjust the modelling for Plan CC to include an environmental demand for water in the Everglades so that water will be sent south in all operational bands from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades and increase dry season flows above volumes provided by LORS 2008 (Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule).
  • Eliminate regulatory releases to the St. Lucie.
  • Eliminate harmful regulatory releases to the Caloosahatchee while maintaining beneficial dry season releases, targeting RECOVER restoration flows of 750-2,100 cfs at S-79 whenever possible.
  • Measure all Caloosahatchee flows at the S-79 (Franklin Lock) and reduce “up to” discharges in the upper bands (Zone B and Zone C) to no more than 4500 cubic feet per second.
  • Minimize regulatory releases to the Lake Worth Lagoon.
  • Add operational flexibility to avoid discharge to the estuaries when cyanotoxin levels exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s established guidelines for recreational exposure.

Organizations and community leaders signing the letter include Rep. Donalds, Rep. Mast, Captains For Clean Water, The Everglades Foundation, Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, Friends of the Everglades, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Florida Bay Forever and Florida Oceanographic Society.  

A copy of the letter can be found below: