SFWMD: Despite Hurricane Ian, No Discharges from Lake O Into the Estuaries May be Necessary
South Florida - Thursday October 27, 2022: All eyes are on the South Florida Water Management District's response in the aftermath of hurricane Ian which brought record rainfall that has filled Lake Okeechobee to near capacity.
As of Thursday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported that the water level in Lake Okeechobee was 15-feet and point-71 inches not far below the 16-foot level when potentially harmful discharges may become necessary in the east and west estuaries.
But at a meeting of the Rivers Coalition in Stuart Thursday, South Florida Water Management District Executive Director Drew Bartlett noted that the dry season begins next week. And despite the heavy rains from Hurricane Ian, he expressed confidence that no releases from Lake O will be necessary into either the Caloosahatchee or the St. Lucie River in the remaining months of this year.
“Right now, the long seasonal outlook is very dry, and with less flows coming in, were thinking we can get through this without discharges, which is great." said Bartlett. "And then we can have water to help the Everglades and everything through the dry season."
Last year there were no discharges into the estuaries either and, Bartlett said, oysters have been among the beneficiaries. “We’ve been able to avoid those lake discharges. The climate has been somewhat cooperative. The control of the waters, the control of Lake Okeechobee has really benefited the oysters in the St. Lucie Estuary. So, that’s kind of exciting for us environmentalists to see.”
However, the Army Corps of Engineers, which is the primary agency responsible for Lake Okeechobee management, has not yet committed to no discharges, primarily because the hurricane season is not over yet.
And the good news was further tempered by remarks from the Water District’s lead scientist, Dr. Anna Wachnicka.
“We should prepare for the next year bloom season which most likely will be quite intense because of all the nutrient getting into the Lake," she said. "As soon as the transparency will improve, and water temperature will increase, that’s when we will expect most likely intense bloom in the upcoming bloom season. So, we should be ready for that.”