PORT ST. LUCIE – U.S. Congressman Brian Mast (FL-21) reacted to the latest action by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to address the outdated operating schedule for Lake Okeechobee and reduce harmful discharges to Florida’s east coast. As the rainy season is underway and toxic algae covers huge swaths of the lake, the Corps released an updated version of the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM). After several bureaucratic delays, Rep. Mast urged expeditious implementation of the plan and was encouraged to hear that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) plans to complete its biological consultation by the end of August.
“This announcement makes some clarifications to the plan that was put forward last year but thankfully does not make the plan worse for our community. While it’s far from perfect, this version of LOSOM is still a dramatic improvement on the status quo,” said Rep. Mast. “It’s been five years since I passed the bill requiring a rewrite of LORS, and two years to the date since the Army Corps announced its decision on LOSOM. In the meantime, the Treasure Coast has continued to suffer as the sugar industry’s toilet. Enough is enough; let’s get this implemented once and for all.”
Rep. Mast also urged action on his plan, the Northern Estuaries Restoration Plan (NERP), funding for the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) reservoir, and warned against complacency.
“LOSOM is going to make a huge difference in the fight against harmful discharges, but it isn’t where our fight ends,” Mast continued. “We need to fully fund the EAA reservoir and NERP, so that we can finally end all discharges to the east coast and send the water south as God intended.”
- Following a three-year long development process resulting from legislation passed by Rep. Mast in 2018, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers selected Balanced Alternative CC as the foundation for the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM), which will dictate operations on Lake Okeechobee for approximately the next decade.
- After nearly two years of “optimization,” the plan was scheduled to be implemented in June, 2023, ahead of the rainy season. In March, 2023, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) raised concerns about the plan and requested additional time to study the impact on red tide and sea turtles.
- In 2022, Rep. Mast authored the law that mandates NERP. NERP builds on the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) by requiring the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to take action to address harmful algal blooms and end the toxic discharges that continue to plague the northern estuaries. The goal of CERP is to restore America’s Everglades, but it was never intended to completely eliminate harmful discharges to the northern estuaries. For example, CERP projects are expected to eliminate only two-thirds of discharges to the St. Lucie Estuary. NERP would work to eliminate the remaining discharges not stopped by the completion of CERP projects.
- Rep. Mast has also fought constantly for full funding for the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) reservoir. As part of the 2023 appropriations process, he requested full funding for South Florida Ecosystem Restoration (SFER) projects, including the EAA Reservoir. As a result of his advocacy, the House Appropriations Committee is poised to approve $425 million this year, an increase over what has been allocated for the project in previous years. It is also $10 million more than President Biden requested for SFER in his budget.