LAKE OKEECHOBEE REGULATION SCHEDULE (LORS) http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Portals/44/docs/h2omgmt/LORSdocs/2008_LORS_WCP_mar2008.pdf
The second she said it, I was at full attention. This past Tuesday, Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation Director, Ms. Rae Ann Wessel, spoke on the Army Corps of Engineers Periodic Scientists Call. In seven years of listening, in seven years of agency and public comment, I had never heard, seriously, and scientifically, someone address South Florida’s greatest taboo.
Ms Wessel said something like this:
Part of the LORS (Lake Okeechobee Release Schedule 2008) addresses “shared adversity.” Lake Okeechobee is approximately 470,000 acres. Would it be possible to put the water the Corps plans to release from the lake over approximately 484,000 acres of crop lands just south of the lake, rather than into estuaries? The Caloosahatchee algae situation is already at its absolute worst…
You could hear a pin drop…
Wessel was recommending options to the Army Corps and stakeholders regarding the ACOE restarting discharges to the estuaries. Since the previous week’s call, due to NOAA images showing 90% of the lake covered in cyanobacteria blooms, and crisis of algae in both estuaries, the Governor and other powerful politicians asked the federal agency to temporarily stop discharges considering all options before discharging, once again.
Just the previous day, before Wessel’s comment, after viewing the putrid algal mess in the Caloosahatchee, Gov. Rick Scott called for a State of Emergency encompassing seven counties.
Some history, earlier this year, the Caloosahatchee was almost begging the South Florida Water Management District and ACOE for water, but was denied. Now the Caloosahatchee is receiving so much water, with algae to boot, that they are experiencing a toxic summer similar to what the St Lucie experienced in 2016. The Caloosahatchee has had it especially tough this year.
The elephant in the room, or perhaps better described as the Tyrannosaurus rex in the room, is that with Lake Okeechobee over 14 feet, and the fact that we are now approaching the most turbulent part of hurricane season, the ACOE “has to start releasing again,” like now! And everybody knows this.
Therefore, Rae Ann was looking for options, for sharing adversity, and this was fair as the Calloosahatchee has bore most of the adversity this year. She wasn’t talking about flooding the cities in the EAA, she was inquiring about flooding the fields, by less than a foot of water that would evaporate quickly at that extension and depth, maybe stressing but not killing the crops. Sugarcane in particular, is a hardy and durable crop for intermittent periods of water.
Shared adversity… Certainly, the estuaries have have their “fair” share…
So why does the ACOEhave to dump to the estuaries? Why is it taboo to talk about flooding the fields? Because although the 2008 LORS talks about shared adversity the EAA is federally protected by an older and more important document.
The ACOE in not a teacher picking favorites, they are the military taking orders from Congress.
The federal “law,” connected to the Central and South Florida Project (http://22.214.171.124/about/restudy_csf_devel.aspx) is complex, but perhaps best explained by sharing an excerpt from the book, River of Interests, by the Army Corp of Engineers. Page 35, discusses the 1948 Central and South Florida Project, what it did, and requires of the ACOE.(http://sccf.org/downloadable-files/5b465bf85f38152b048d1cce.pdf)
First, the Corps would build a levee from northwest Palm Beach County to the south of Dade County along the east coast, thereby preventing flooding from the Everglades to the coastal communities. Second, the Corps would modify control facilities and levees around Lake Okeechobee in order to create more water storage, and it would increase the discharge capacity from the lake in order to prevent flooding. Third, the Corps would create three water conservation areas in Palm Beach, Broward and Dade counties for water storage. Fourth, the Corps would construct canals, levees, and pumping stations to protect 700,000 acres of agriculture south of Lake Okeechobee in Palm Beach, Hendry, and Glades counties, known as the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA). Fifth, the Corps would build canals and water control structures to handle drainage in Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Martin, and St. Lucie counties.
This bolded section is the key, this is why Rae Ann Wessel’s question rung so loudly in the silence of the ACOE call. For the ACOE, it is “understood,” that no matter the case, even with LORS, and in spite of “shared adversity,” that 700,000 acres of agriculture fields, south of Lake Okeechobee is to be protected from flooding destruction.
But as we all know, nothing lasts forever.
Just like other laws of our great county, some do, indeed over time, become outdated for the times. Things change. Among other issues, in 1950, when the Central and South Flood Project law was structured and voted upon to protect the crops in the EAA as part of flood control 2.81 million people lived in Florida. Today, 20 million people reside here. In the old days, the discharges did not have the impact as they do today, the rivers were healthier, and the Lake, it wasn’t so polluted. But now, seventy years later, water quality, pollution, and human health issues have risen to a point of question. “In emergency situations”, is discharging cyanobacteria water from Lake Okeechobee into the now heavily populated areas along the estuaries to prevent flooding of the Everglades Agricultural Area in the state’s best interest, or is it archaic, like the T-Rex in the room?
-Above aerials: Caloosahatchee algae bloom 7-6-18, photo courtesy pilot Dave Stone.
What is the Everglades Agricultural Area: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Everglades_Agricultural_Area
Gov.Rick Scott State of Emergency proclamation: https://www.flgov.com/2018/07/09/gov-scott-issues-emergency-order-to-combat-algal-blooms-in-south-florida/
What are the ACOE Periodic Scientists Calls? Former blog post 2014: https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2014/03/06/the-acoes-periodic-scientists-call-and-the-indian-river-lagoon/