USACE Increases Lake Okeechobee Releases to the Caloosahatchee; No Releases to the St. Lucie Estuary, Yet
South Florida - Monday December 05, 2022: As of Friday Lake Okeechobee has risen to 16.5 feet in depth, the highest its been at this time of the year since 2008,
"Lake Okeechobee continues to rise due to Hurricane Ian and Nicole," said Col. James Booth, Jacksonville District commander." Based on conditions in the lake, we must increase releases to help manage lake levels and put the lake in the best possible position for the dry season and the next wet season. We will continue to utilize our make-up release tool which allows us to make releases at lower levels and bank the volume not released.”
As a result, during a conference call with the media last Friday, Col. Booth announced that effective this past Saturday December 3, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) would began increasing releases from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee Estuary from the W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam (S-79) at a seven-day average pulse release of 2,000 cubic feet per second.
However Col. Booth said no lake releases are currently planned for the St. Lucie Estuary.
With the lake over 16.5 feet, USACE has been executing inspections of the south side of the lake from Moore Haven to Belle Glade weekly and inspecting the remainder of the dike every two weeks.
The HHD was inspected thoroughly before and after Hurricanes Ian and Nicole, and no problems were identified.
The target releases are still within the REstoration COordination & VERification (RECOVER) optimal flow envelope for the Caloosahatchee. Water from the lake will only be released in amounts needed to supplement local basin runoff, said Col. Booth. And the target is consistent with the recommendation from the South Florida Water Management District for this week.
Still, he cautioned that the USACE anticipates having to increase releases again and the Corps is spending this week listening to its stakeholders throughout the state to get their input and feedback on the best way to manage the needs of the entire system, while anticipating potential risks that may be in front of us.
Make-up releases are a water management tool within the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule 2008 (LORS08) which gives water managers the flexibility to bank releases allowed under LORS but not made in order to release them later when the schedule calls for lower releases. LORS08 Part D guidance currently recommends up to 4,000 cfs at S-77 and up to 1,800 cfs at S-80.
The volumetric difference between the actual releases and the guidance will be put into a water bank. As conditions in the estuaries recover and our schedule goes into dry season mode, releases will be continued using the available volume of banked water. Our intent is to release this volume at beneficial levels during the dry season. We are committed to transparency throughout the implementation of make-up releases.