Roundtable touts Corps’ water plan | News, Sports, Jobs

The problem of the water quality around Lake Okeechobee and its connecting rivers is like a 1,000-piece puzzle: Many pieces have to be put in a certain order so that the big picture fits together properly.

Last Tuesday, Representative Byron Donalds and a meeting at City Hall in Cape Coral spoke to local leaders and concerned citizens at a congressional water round table that told attendees that southwest Florida is only one of a large handful of areas in which the effects can be felt of a faulty system.

However, they also got what panel members said was good news on the horizon, as the new Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM) allows flexibility in the delivery of water from the lake to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers and the Everglades to the south.

Donalds, who represents District 19, was assisted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Col. Andrew Kelly, Chauncey Goss, chairman of the South Florida District Water Management, and the U.S. Department of the Interior, director of the Everglades Restoration Initiatives Bureau Adam Gelber .

Everyone agreed that the ecology of Lake Okeechobee, whose waters are rich in polluting nutrients, is poor and needs improvement, but the water release from the lake is not the only reason blue-green algae are found in local waters.

“When water flows down the river, it affects everyone. Flowers are not because of the lake. We have drainage problems in the water. The reservoir will help us manage the flow of water. “ Donalds said of upcoming infrastructure improvements.

Donalds said he couldn’t remember a time when all elected officials on both sides of the aisle were on the same page on an issue. He commended Governor Ron DeSantis, former President Donald Trump, and President Joe Biden for the work they have done on the Everglades Restoration Project by helping to fund dozens of projects that need to be carried out over the years to come.

“I am confident that we will have this conversation. We haven’t had a lot of them over the years and now we have so much momentum. “ said Goss. “We cannot go back to the status quo.”

“During stressful times, elected officials spoke to ACE about managing the lake in such a way that southwest Florida would not bear the brunt.” said Donald. “There is water that we have to take, we just want to limit these harmful releases.”

Kelly said the original LOSOM plan did not do enough to help the people along the Caloosahatchee and could have been devastating. He said the new plan is now on “Optimization” calls for flexibility and timing of publications when needed.

Donalds said the meeting went well as the people of Cape Coral want meaningful answers as blue-green algae blooms have returned in the river and other local waters.

“They want real action on water releases. We don’t want to put up with any water spills at all, but what we learned was the technical aspects of the new plan and the flexibility built into that plan. said Donald.

Kelly said it was great to have the public engaged with a panel that looks at things from different perspectives.

“It was an opportunity to get good feedback and let people know what we are doing.” said Kelly. “Right now I feel like the current plan is too stressful for the Caloosahatchee and I have been trying to explain how we will come after reducing that stress and it may or may not involve additional releases in the east.”

The response was mixed.

Local activist Jason Pim said that while it was nice to hear from elected officials, there are many water issues that are not affected by the lake and that need to be addressed.

“We don’t seem to get to the point where we can talk about the problems of local water pollution.” said Pim. “We have a lot of water bodies to restore and we don’t seem to get to the point where we can clean up the contaminated sites.”

Lee County commissioner Brian Hamman said he was encouraged that the Corps, which among other things is tasked with managing lake water levels to prevent the levee from breaking with its surroundings, give their message about the releases of Caloosahatchee heard.

“It’s not just our environment, it’s our economy. We don’t want hospitality workers to stand in line for food because they have been laid off. “ said Hammann. “Every community on the river and lake is affected and everyone has a different concern than we do. We all compete for the best plan for our regions, but we share this space and have to make some compromises to find a balanced plan. “

The city of Cape Coral and Lee County have each sent letters to the Army Corps of Engineers stating that the corps’ choice, Alternative CC, is disproportionately sending water west across the Caloosahatchee.

Lee County Commission chairman Kevin Ruane sent a follow-up letter last Tuesday after watching the Army Corps web meeting the previous day.

“Lee County was closely following the Army Corps web meeting on August 9th and remains frustrated with the direction of the ‘preferred alternative’ and the optimization process.” Ruane wrote. “Lee County remains deeply disappointed with the starting point for optimization and we remain concerned about how the ‘optimization’ will go over the next two months.”

He reiterated the county’s arguments against additional flows to the west and concluded with general dissatisfaction with the progress of the process.

“Continuing the path you have shown has done little to alleviate our concerns.” Ruane wrote. “We are still frustrated with the process and the outcome. We sincerely hope that appropriate changes will be made to balance Lake Operations. ”

The corps must have a new 10-year management plan that can be implemented by the end of 2022 when the construction of the Herbert Hoover dike is completed.

The Corps considered six options and says Alternative CC is meeting 10 of its 11 stated management goals. These goals include the continuous protection of the dike surrounding the lake and the associated flood protection; Reducing the risk of algal blooms in the lake and in the affected estuaries; Improving the ecology of the lake, the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Estuaries, and South Florida by sending more water south to help the Glades; and maintaining Congress-approved navigation and recreation projects.

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