U.S. Army Corps Resumes Lake O Releases to the St. Lucie Estuary
Florida - Thursday March 2, 2023: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers resumed releasing water from Lake Okeechobee out of the Port Mayaca Lock and Dam Thursday after tests found the toxic content of samples taken from the Lake to be below the detection limit.
The Lock feeds into the St. Lucie Estuary and releases in the past have sometimes brought toxic algae blooms causing serious environmental damage to the region.
The Army Corps shut down the Port Mayaca Lock and Dam Monday after aerial photos indicated that an algae mass was moving towards the gate from Lake Okeechobee. Samples were taken and turned over to the South Florida Water Management District.
“The South Florida Water Management District, they are the folks that are responsible for water quality," said Erica Skolte, a spokeswoman for the Jacksonville District of the Army Corps which is responsible for Lake O management. "They conducted tests and gave us the results (and) they were under detection limits.”
Even though the toxin levels were below detectable limits, Skolte said the area on the Lake O side of the gate was treated with algicide by the Water Management District Wednesday afternoon.
On Thursday morning she said "there was no visible algae at the site, so we re-opened the flow at the spill way and the St. Lucie Lock and Dam is going be back at its regular 500 cubic feet per second.”
The 500 cubic feet per second discharges began January 22 as part of an effort by the Corps to lower the level of Lake O, swollen by the rains from last year’s two hurricanes.
"We’ve been able to get the Lake down a little bit more than a half a foot in the last 30 days," said Skolte, "and of course we’re continuing to try and stay with that strategy to get the lake down so that we’re in a good place at the beginning of the wet season.”
Read the release from the U.S. Army Corps in full below:
USACE resumes releases to St. Lucie Estuary
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District resumed releases at the Port Mayaca Lock and Dam (S-308) and the St. Lucie Lock and Dam at (S-80) this morning following a temporary closure at the Port Mayaca Lock and Dam on Monday, Feb. 27.
“Based on the test results and improved conditions onsite this morning, releases were resumed at the Port Mayaca Lock and Dam”, said Col. James Booth, Jacksonville District Commander. “Though we have been able to get the lake down more than half a foot in the past 30 days, the lake elevation is still at 15.5 today. Our goal continues to be to bring the lake down for the next few months, so that we are in a better position prior to the beginning of the wet season. We will continue to monitor conditions closely along with our partners at the South Florida Water Management District. We greatly appreciate their excellent technical support and quick turnaround on sampling results, which enables us to make informed decisions.”
“The St. Lucie Lock and Dam will also resume the scheduled 500 cubic feet per second releases,” said Booth. “These releases have helped us to bring lake levels down, while salinity levels in the St. Lucie Estuary remain in the middle of the optimum range for oysters.”
”When possible, we will avoid making releases during times when algal blooms are present on the lake or at our structures,” Booth said. “We will continue to provide information to the public about the presence of algal blooms near our structures, facilities, and waterways we manage, while we continue to implement our dry season strategy.”
The Corps continues to monitor conditions closely at Port Mayaca Lock and Dam, in coordination with the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD). Yesterday afternoon, SFWMD crews treated both the Port Mayaca Lock and Dam and lakeside with a peroxide-based algaecide. Test results from Tuesday’s sample from Port Mayaca by the SFWMD were returned with Microcystin levels below the detection limit of 0.2 micrograms/L. This morning, no visible algae was observed at the Port Mayaca Lock and Dam.