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Lake O operating plan must be balanced

By Staff | Oct 12, 2021

To the editor:

The following letter was submitted to USACE Col. Booth and others involved in revisions to the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM).

Re: LOSOM Alternative CC Optimization for the Caloosahatchee

Dear Colonel Booth:

On behalf of the Captiva Community Panel and the thousands of residents and visitors to Captiva, we wish to acknowledge that your new assignment as Commander of the Jacksonville District is a challenging one. We sincerely hope that the Army Corps of Engineers can play a positive role in solving the crises that have plagued and continue to threaten the quality of life and economy of Southwest Florida.

The Captiva Community Panel is tasked by our community with protecting the natural resources of our coastal barrier island, including our beaches, waterways, wildlife, vegetation and water quality. Our community was devastated by the freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee in 2016 and again in 2018 that fueled the blue green algae and red tide blooms, and caused the widespread fish kill that contributed to $47 million in lost revenue to the tourism-based economy of Sanibel and Captiva islands. The summer-long odor of tons of dead fish washed up and rotting on our beach and in our mangroves was completely unacceptable. It is inconceivable that the federal government and its Army Corps of Engineers would — in this day and age — permit this kind of catastrophe to occur. The devastation our community experienced reflected a policy debacle which we hope never to experience again.

Most recently, we have been closely following the development of the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM). After reviewing the Corps’ modeling data, we remain extremely concerned that the new schedule permits an increase in stressful flows and an overall increase in the total volume of water (and nutrients) delivered to our estuary and coast while reducing lake flows, nutrient loading and stressful flow events to the St. Lucie Estuary. Any schedule which shifts the burden of discharges to the Caloosahatchee is both unfair and hard to justify. Both estuaries should be treated equally, but neither the west nor east coast of Florida should be faced with policy decisions that could threaten the health, economy and quality of life of their communities.

We have been repeatedly told that many of the water management challenges that we face in our estuaries and coastal communities are due to operational constraints placed on the system to provide for water supply and flood control. But flood control and water supply can no longer be addressed at the expense of the health and economic well being of the coastal communities.

The estuaries can no longer suffer the ecological consequences of being the primary outlets for the Central and Southern Florida Project. It is now time that the Army Corps of Engineers changes the paradigm and adjusts its priorities to reflect the value and importance of the estuaries and the coastal communities to the State of Florida.

In the immediate, short-term situation, our community is requesting and relying upon the Corps adopting a balanced LOSOM plan — one that treats the west and east coast estuaries equally; one that more equitably distributes discharges from the lake and measures all flows at the Franklin Lock (S-79) in order to take watershed runoff into account; one that fairly recognizes the needs of all stakeholders; and one that fully protects the economic and environmental life of Southwest Florida.

On behalf of the Captiva community, we look forward to working with you as Commander of the Jacksonville District. Please let us know if you have any questions or thoughts about our concerns, or if you wish to visit Captiva and meet with the Panel.

Sincerely,

Jay Brown, President,

on behalf of the Captiva

Community Panel