There are only a handful of people who are qualified to help us navigate the turbulent and murky waters of Lake Okeechobee and its effects on our beloved St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon….
One of these rare individuals is Dr Gary Goforth. “Gary” has more than 30 years of experience in water resources engineering, encompassing strategic planning, design, permitting, construction, operation and program management.
For the last 25 years, his focus has been on large-scale environmental restoration programs in the Kissimmee-Okeechobee-Everglades ecosystem. He was the Chief Consulting Engineer during the design, construction and operation of the $700 million Everglades Construction Project, containing over 41,000 acres of constructed wetlands.
With all this experience Gary spends a tremendous amount of time at River Coalition and SFWMD meetings, and with every day people, advocating to local, state, and national officials telling the story in a manner that the average person can understand but with the power and expertise of a scientist.
Dr Goforth teaches us that we CAN HOLD THE ACOE, AND ESPECIALLY THE SOUTH FLORIDA WATER MANAGEMENT DISTRICT ACCOUNTABLE.
We can ask such questions as “are you sending the maximum practicable amount of water south?” “Is it 28% more than in 1994 as required by the Everglades Forever Act?” ” Is an average per year of 250,000 acre feet going south from the lake to the Everglades as required by the Everglades Forever Act?” “Are the Storm Water Treatment Areas being used to full capacity?” “Is the truth of the destruction of the estuaries being reported?” “Should 2008 LORS, Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule, been revised?” “Should the Everglades Settlement’s Q-Bell (limit of Phosphorus) be reviewed-is it realistic?” “Is a large reservoir being created in the Everglades Agricultural Area as is called for in the Central Everglades Restoration Plan?” “Who are the Lake and the STAs really serving?”
In order to hold the agencies accountable we must be educated! We must ask questions. We must look at the figures for water flowing south of the lake every year and compare.
Dr Goforth provides regular public updates on these issues, directly and indirectly holding the fire to the agencies. Today I am publishing in full his DRAFT–WET SEASON 2015 LAKE DISCHARGE report.
Please read it, study it, familiarize yourself with it. Dr Goforth has a website if you have any questions. Thank you Dr Goforth for the gift of shared knowledge. It is the greatest gift of all.
Draft – Wet Season 2015 Lake Discharges by Dr Gary Goforth:
- Goforth – December 18, 2015
Flows into and out of Lake Okeechobee were examined for the period May 1, 2015 – October 31, 2015, corresponding to the first half of the annual water year (May 2015 to April 2016), and roughly corresponding to the south Florida wet season. The flows and associated Lake water levels were compared to same period from last year. In light of the influence of the current strong El Nino, Lake water levels were compared to the levels that occurred during May- November 1997 which preceded over 1 million acre feet (347 billion gallons) of destructive Lake releases to the St. Lucie Estuary between December 1997 and May 1998.
Flows into Lake Okeechobee – excluding rainfall. For the period May 1 to October 31, 2015, surface inflows to Lake Okeechobee amounted to 1.43 million acre feet (466 billion gallons) (Table 1). This is 20 percent less than for the same period in 2014 (Table 2 and Figure 1).
Flows out of Lake Okeechobee – excluding evapotranspiration. For the period May 1 to October 31, 2015, surface outflows from Lake Okeechobee amounted to 780,000 acre feet (254 billion gallons) (Table 3). This is 37 percent more than for the same period in 2014 (Table 4 and Figure 2). Approximately 30 percent more Lake water was sent to the EAA and L-8 Canals during 2015 than 2014, likely in response to higher water supply demands (due to lower rainfall than in 2014).
Lake Okeechobee water levels. The level of Lake Okeechobee varied from 13.81 ft on May 1 to 14.55 ft on October 31, 2015, reaching a low level of 11.96 ft on July 16 (Figure 3). For 2014, the level of Lake Okeechobee varied from 13.07 ft on May 1 to 15.85 ft on October 31, reaching a low level of 12.32 ft on June 11. Lake water levels rose only 0.74 feet during the 2015 wet season compared with a rise of 2.78 ft during the same period in 2014. The Lake level on October 31, 2015 was approximately 1.3 ft lower than it was a year earlier, and approximately 0.5 ft lower than October 31, 1997 (Figure 4). In addition, the Lake level on November 30, 2015 was approximately 1 ft lower than it was on November 30, 1997, which preceded over 1 million acre feet (347 billion gallons) of destructive Lake releases to the St. Lucie Estuary between December 1997 and May 1998. Two important differences between 1997 and today that could influence Lake discharges to the estuary include rainfall over the Lake Okeechobee watershed and the regulation schedules governing Lake operations. According to the South Florida Water Management District (District), November 2015 was the wettest November since 1998, indicating inflows to the Lake over the next month may be substantially larger than average. Additionally, the Lake is currently operated under the LORS2008 schedule which was anticipated to result in increased frequency and magnitude of Lake releases to the estuaries compared to the regulation schedule in place during 1997-1998.
Lake flows to the STAs. Beginning in August 2015, the District began operating the EAA A-1 Flow Equalization Basin (FEB), which is approximately 15,000 acres in size and can store water up to 4 feet deep. The FEB can receive Lake releases and EAA runoff, and distribute flows either to STA-2, STA-3/4 or to the EAA for irrigation. At this time incomplete flow records are available to the public through the District’s DBHYDRO database to fully account for the various flow paths, and until additional data are available, the estimates of Lake releases and runoff to STA-2 and STA-3/4 will be subject to revision. Using these preliminary estimates, approximately 13 percent less Lake water has been sent to the STAs in 2015 compared with 2014 (Figures 5 and 6 and Table 5). During the same period, approximately 32 percent less basin runoff was sent to the STAs, reflecting less wet season rainfall in 2015.
Flows to the estuaries. Lower rainfall in 2015 resulted in less basin runoff to the estuaries for the period May to October than occurred in 2014 (Table 6). However, due to the Lake releases that occurred during January through May 2015, Lake discharges to the estuaries in 2015 far exceeded Lake releases during 2014.
SUMMARY. Lower rainfall during the May to October 2015 period resulted in about 20 percent less inflows to Lake Okeechobee than in 2014. However, outflows from the Lake increased compared to 2014, likely in response to higher water supply demands (due to lower rainfall than in 2014). Lake water levels rose only 0.74 feet during the 2015 wet season compared with a rise of 2.78 ft during the same period in 2014. The Lake level at the end of October 2015 was about 1.3 ft lower than in 2014. In addition, the Lake level on November 30, 2015 was approximately 1 ft lower than it was on the same date on November 30, 1997, which preceded over 1 million acre feet (347 billion gallons) of destructive Lake releases to the St. Lucie Estuary between December 1997 and May 1998. However, differences in rainfall and Lake regulation schedules prevent a forecast of potential 2016 Lake discharges compared to the 1997-1998 discharges to the estuaries based on Lake levels at the end of November.