What will the remainder of the wet season bring for Lake Okeechobee?
“We remain very aware remainder of hurricane season or the wet season could send large amounts of rain,” Col. James Booth, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District, explained in a Sept. 15 media conference call.
Alternatively, the dry season could start early – it’s all up to Mother Nature.
Even if the dry season starts soon, weather forecasts indicate the dry season could have above average rainfall.
Booth said while the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule that went into effect in 2008 (LORS-08) calls for higher releases to the coastal estuaries, USACE will not increase lake releases yet. Instead, as they did during the past dry season, they will “bank” the extra water.
For the current date and lake level, LORS calls for releases of up to 3,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) to the Caloosahatchee River and up to 1,700 cfs to the east to the St. Lucie Canal. Booth said they will continue the plan to limit releases to the Caloosahatchee River to 2,000 cfs, measure at the Franklin Lock and keep the flow to the St. Lucie (at the St. Lucie Lock) to zero.
Flow to the Caloosahatchee River at the Julian Keen Jr. Lock at Moore Haven will be limited to the amount of lake water needed to meet the target of 2,000 cfs at the Franklin Lock, more than 43 miles downstream. If local basin runoff meets or exceeds the target, no lake water will be released.
Flow at the Port Mayaca Lock will be limited to water needed to maintain the level of the St. Lucie Canal (C-44 canal) at the optimal level for navigation and to meet water supply needs in that area. Some water users draw water from the C-44. In addition, water from the C-44 canal is pumped into the C-44 reservoir, which supplies flow to the C-44 stormwater treatment area (STA).
Booth said instead of releasing water at the levels indicated by LORS-08, they will keep the water in the lake. Later in the dry season, this water can be used for beneficial releases. The Caloosahatchee River needs some freshwater flow from the lake during the dry season to prevent salinity levels from rising too high in the estuary.
USACE is in the process of replacing LORS-08 with the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM).
Booth admitted keeping the lake high over the past year has prevented Lake O from recovering from the damages left by Hurricane Ian.
“Ecological conditions are certainly not improving on the lake,” he said.
On Sept. 15, Lake Okeechobee was 15.36 feet above sea level.
South of the lake, water continues to be released under the Tamiami Trail at about 2,700 cfs.