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Congressman Mast Blasts Army Corps Decision to Increase Releases from Lake O; Blames Corps for Delay in Implementing a New Operating Manual

South Florida - Thursday February 15, 2024: In response to yesterday's announcement by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that they will start high volume releases of water from Lake Okeechobee Saturday, Congressman Brian Mast has issued a statement blasting the Corps for what he says is their "continued mismanagement of Lake Okeechobee."

In a letter sent yesterday to USACE Jacksonville District Commander Col. James Booth, Mast writes that the Corps has shown a lack of "foresight to see medium to long-term impacts of dry season management" and as a result they have "put all the surrounding communities and the estuaries at severe risk."

He accuses the Corps of keeping the Lake "artificially high during dry periods to benefit the sugar industry at the expense of all other Floridians."

Mast, who represents parts of the Treasure Coast and northern Palm Beach County, is concerned that the Lake water that is released could carry toxic algae down into the St. Lucie Estuary, as it has in the past, and give rise to yet another blue-green algae outbreak, killing fish, fouling beaches, disrupting tourist related businesses, and posing a health threat to residents.

The problem, writes Mast in his letter, is that the Army Corps is using a more than 10-year-old schedule, based on outdated information and debunked science, to determine how the lake is managed. "Under this plan," he writes, "our estuary far too often receives toxic discharges that put lives at risk."

In response to a law introduced by Mast that required the Army Corps to improve its management of the Lake, the USACE developed what’s known as the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual or LOSOM. That new system operating manual was finished last year but has not yet been implemented. Mast wants to know why.

In his letter Mast asks the Corps to answer 5 questions:

• When will LOSOM be implemented?

• What is the overall desirable level of the Lake right now given the Lake is currently higher than 90-percent of historically observed levels for this time of year?

• Given releases are scheduled to start Saturday, February 17th, what are the details of the long-term plan for lowering the Lake to the biological envelope parameters?

• The USACE has formally disputed the National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) Biological Opinion; what is the process going forward?

• How will the Corps change its management of Lake Okeechobee to prevent future discharges?

He has asked for a response from the Corps by tomorrow, Friday February 16th.