Take Action on Lake Okeechobee Releases

Redfish Pass 1-31 Leland GarvinJanuary 2016 was the wettest since record keeping began in 1932 with 570% of average rainfall according to the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD).  The unusually high rainfall is associated with a very strong El Nino condition that is expected to cause significantly higher rain through April.  This means our normal dry season will likely be a washed out, dark water from high discharges may impact our beach tourism economy and high flows will impact the estuary spring spawning of fish, shellfish and seagrass.

There are short and long term actions we are asking water managers to take.  Please use the  information in this message to send your thoughts to them asking them to take action on these options to Stop the Harm.

Please write to the SFWMD Governing Board!

Please use some of the talking points below to write a custom email to the South Florida Water Management District. Governor Scott and the Lee County Board of County Commissioners.

The problem

  •  Lake O water levels are rising despite unlimited releases to both coastal estuaries.
  •  Today the lake is 16.4 ft nearly a foot above the lake level management zone, 3 feet above average for this time of year.  The last time the lake was this high was December 2005.
  • Due to heavy rainfall throughout the region the majority of our flows -over 80%- are coming from the watershed between the lake and western lock where the water enters the estuary.
  • The graph (right) shows where Caloosahatchee water comes from. The last week of January, 12% of the inflow was from Lake O (blue color),  82% was from our watershed (gray and green). Most of January there was no flow from the lake.
  •  Very high rainfall the last week of January produced flooding and excess water throughout the greater Everglades ecosystem. While the Corps of Engineers was engaging emergency discharges to lower the lake, the SFWMD was simultaneously backpumping from two structures south of the lake adding 47,000 acre feet of polluted water back into the lake. This required the Corps to further increase discharges to the estuaries.
  • Backpumping must be stopped because it moves the problem from south of the lake to the estuaries.  The water  should instead be held on the 700,000 acres of farmland between the lake and Water Conservation Areas and Stormwater Treatment areas.
  • When emergency conditions exist, we must engage these lands to store water and not move it into the lake where it creates additional strain on the lake and ultimately will be discharged to the coastal estuaries.

Storage is the Solution

  • The ultimate solution is storage. The priority location where there is no storage is south of the lake.
  • Over 20 years of scientific studies and reports have cited storage south of the lake as the one solution that would provide benefits for many parts of the system.
  • Storage south of the lake would benefit Lake O,  reduce excess , harmful discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries, would provide additional water supply for Ag in the EAA (Everglades Agricultural Area) and provide needed water for  the Everglades and Florida Bay.
  • In addition to storage south of the lake 280,000 acre-feet of storage capacity is needed in the Caloosahatchee watershed. The SFWMD determined this additional storage was needed after the devastating discharges in 2005. That event highlighted that the Caloosahatchee watershed needs a total of 450,000 acre-feet of storage, a great deal more than the 170,000 acre-feet of the C-43 West Basin Reservoir. In 2005 the District Executive Director pledged to Sanibel City Council that they were identifying locations where water could be held so we would not have a repeat of that harmful event.
  • 11 years later the District has only just started construction on the C-43 reservoir which will take four
  • years to complete. C43 will provide approximately one quarter of the watershed storage needed and only in a restricted region south of the river. We need another 280,000 acre-feet of storage capacity in other areas of our watershed.

11 Years Is Too Long To Wait
We Need to Act now on Short term and Long Term solutions.  We urge the District to consider the following:

Short term

  • We ask the SFWMD not to exacerbate the problem of high water levels in Lake O by backpumping.  Initiate discharges from the lake to all other public and private lands in the C&SF system including the 700,000 acres of EAA land.
  • To address funding we ask the SFWMD revisit the tax rate they have rolled back year after year.  A rate of less than $10/year/household.  These roll backs have significantly hampered the District’s budget and operations.  How much more are we spending in emergency operations every few years?  Projects provide a better Return on Investment than emergency operations
  • We urge the SFWMD to work with the state legislature to Support the Legacy Florida bill HB 989/SB 1168  and  use Amendment 1 funding to build the storage needed south of the lake and in our watershed.
  • Add monitoring stations in the Caloosahatchee watershed between the locks to determine where the excessively high flows originate.
  •  Identify projects in those high flow areas where projects can be pursued.

Long Term

  • Reopen the discussion and restart planning for storage south of the lake where benefits will be gained for the lake, estuaries, agricultural water supply, Everglades and Florida Bay. Sanibel Mayor Ruane and U.S. Rep Curt Clawson are meeting with property owners south of the lake to negotiate options.
  • Support a 2016 WRDA bill to authorize and appropriate funding for projects.

  act now