What is a HAB Deviation?

-Shadow in Toxic algae, Central Marine, St Lucie River, Stuart, FL 2016. Photo JTLSince February 1, 2021, the St Lucie River has fallen under an Army Corp of Engineer’s “HAB Deviation” or Harmful Algae Bloom Deviation. If you are not familiar with it, this is a complex situation, and it took a lot to get there; however, I am going to try to explain it in easy terms.

Basically, HAB Deviation means that the ACOE has the authority to discharge from Lake Okeechobee in order to avoid another toxic summer. The HAB Deviation gives the ACOE the ability,  if necessary, to discharge more flexibly than is documented in the present Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule, or LORS 2008. The HAB Deviation may dovetail with new requirements in 2022, when a new, updated lake regulation schedule called LOSOM, is delivered. The HAB Deviation may or may not exist then. But for now, it does.

“Why?” you may ask. 

Because actually the ACOE is trying to protect the estuaries from a precarious future. For example, this year, today, (2-14-21) Lake Okeechobee, is at 15.40 feet. This is considered “high” from a St Lucie/Caloosahatchee point of view because looking forward to June 1st 2021, when rainy season begins, it appears the estuaries may be receiving discharges. 

Again, the purpose is for the ACOEs to be able to discharge -to get the lake down early- so they don’t “have” to massively discharge come summer -when the lake undoubtably will have algae blooms. The goal is to avoid discharging algae. Thus the term HAB DEVIATION.

As we can tell from this UF thesis (Gayle) written in 1975, algae blooms have been documented in Lake Okeechobee since 1967. Water Quality is the responsibility of the State, but things got so bad in 2016 and 2018 for the St Lucie and Calooshatchee that the ACOE stepped in and created the HAB DEVIATION SCHEDULE. 

So far the ACOE has not started discharging to the St Lucie River under the HAB DEVIATION, but we should be prepared. 

“Is it better to get the discharges during the winter months when there is not algae in Lake Okeechobee?” This is a difficult question. 

Best would be not to get any at all…

Today, I share because it is all so confusing. At a recent SFWMD meeting, I realized that I didn’t even understand that although the St Lucie is not receiving discharges, the deviation has already begun…

Approved Planned Deviation from LORS 2008 to reduce risk from Harmful Algal Blooms

2020 Planned Deviation to the Water Control Plan for Lake Okeechobee and Everglades Agricultural Area (LORS 2008)

Glades, Hendry, Martin, Okeechobee, and Palm Beach counties

Final Supplemental Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact (Oct. 8 2020)

Supplemental EA and FONSI

Appendix A

Appendix B

Appendix C.1

Appendix C.2

Appendix D

NOTE: very large files may take several minutes to open and download.

-2016 Toxic Algae Bloom, St Lucie River at Central Marine. The algae blooms start in Lake Okeechobee. When discharged to the St Lucie River the blooms are exaserbated by poor water quality and the freshness of the once brackish estuary due to long releases from the Lake Okeechobee. This pattern must stop. More water must flow south. Photo JTL 



7 thoughts on “What is a HAB Deviation?

  1. While I fully support the HAB Deviation, I suspect that this graph will not be sufficient to get Lake O. to 11′-12′ by June 1st. JMHO…

  2. Colonel Andrew Kelly said in the latest USACE news release about Lake O. water management since the HAB deviation plan went into effect 5 days ago…that he expects we will enter the Hurricane Season/Rainy Season in 2021 with the Lake O. level at 14 feet. That will be much like the year 2018. Remember 2018? I do.

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