What a difference a year makes.
One year ago, water was pouring into Lake Okeechobee from the north and flowing out of the lake to the east and west. The releases were blamed for environmental damage in the coastal estuaries.
This year, some counties in the region are in severe drought, and some are asking for Lake Okeechobee freshwater.
The County Coalition for the Responsible Management of Lake Okeechobee, St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Estuaries and the Lake Worth Lagoon held their quarterly meeting Friday, June 2, at the Okeechobee County Court House to discuss this and other issues.
The dry season was 57 percent or 6.35 inches below normal in the 16 counties that comprise the South Florida Water Management District, officials said.
Lee County Commissioner Frank Mann said they have requested more freshwater releases from the lake. He noted algae blooms have popped up along the Caloosahatchee River. This time the blooms are blamed on too little freshwater flow. “We have problems during each dry season but this year is worse,” he said.
The U.S. drought monitor lists all of Highlands, western Okeechobee, southwest Osceola, and northeast Glades County as areas of extreme drought.
Alan Shirkey, Bureau Chief of Engineering & Construction for the South Florida Water Management District said rain fall levels have been below average for the past eight months.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported continued work on replacement of 23 culverts and 21.4 miles of cutoff wall around the lake. Another 35 miles of cutoff wall are planned as are flood wall at two structures north of the lake. They also intend to replace five additional culverts and abandon three culverts and recommend the entire dike be accredited for safety. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has required additional flood insurance in areas south of the lake because the dike has not been certified.
Carol Bernstein, the new Operations Chief at the USACOE in Jacksonville said the lake levels have dropped about three inches a week since April. “We can’t rule out discharges because we can have events which increase the lake by four feet in one month,” she said.
She noted the National Weather Service has not made a significant prediction on the amount of rainfall that could hit the area during the first part of the wet season.
Glades County Commissioner Weston Pryor said the first phase of the Moore Haven canal dredging is complete. He said there have been two lake fires in recent weeks.
Okeechobee County Commissioner David Hazellief said he appreciated the support of fire departments from other counties that have assisted Okeechobee firemen fight wild fires in Viking. He reported two proposals were submitted for Okee-Tantie to make it a destination resort.
Hazellief said he’d like to see progress made on the storm water treatment area on route 710 known as Nubbin Slough. He said he’d like to see the storm water area become productive, “We need a water source for this project. We think we can help there. There is talk of abandonment of this but the county would like to talk to you first.”
Water managers reported progress on both the C-44 and the C-43 reservoir and storm water treatment area projects.
The President’s budget proposal for 2018 includes $76 million for Everglades projects and $82 million for the Herbert Hoover Dike.
The state budget proposal includes $19 million for the Lakeside Ranch project in Glades County and $32 million for study and other work on water storage.