LOSOM is a component of the Central & Southern Florida System Operating Plan and stands for LAKE OKEECHOBEE SYSTEM OPERATION MANUAL. This manual will update Lake Okeechobee operations including discharge amounts and timing to the estuaries.
When Ed told me he was going to take the Maverick out this morning, I decided it was a good time for me to document the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual. This very technical process has been well reported but remains difficult to understand. Today, I will share a few slides from a recent South Florida Water Management District Meeting on the subject for those who may wish to catch up and for purposes of documentation.
Tomorrow, July 19, 2021, at 1:30 pm the Army Corp of Engineers will announce what they call their “preferred plan” for a new lake schedule referred to as LOSOM. This is very exciting yet stressful, and numerous people have been working on this for years. Even with the announcement, the new lake schedule will not be implemented until 2023 as this slide from SFWMD’s Jennifer Reynold’s displays.
Although many are talking about “enhanced” plans, the Army Corp will be choosing one published plan to begin their “balancing process.” You can view an overview of the plans below. Different stakeholders like different plans depending on their positions. The St Lucie stakeholders have rallied around Plan CC “with enhancements.” At the most recent SFWMD governing board meeting another plan based on CC, entitled S.R. 3.5 was used as an example of how to “optimize” the CC plan. You can watch the meeting here to see the presentations and discussions.
In the end, there was discussion about the 3.5 model (positive and negative) but board members supported the policy considerations and “direction” the SFWMD was headed. Please watch the meeting video above for specific comments. (Only 8 hours!) For tomorrow, the main thing is to keep one’s eyes on the above charts, as those are the charts the Army Corp will be referring to to chose a “preferred plan” as the process for “balance”‘ continues. The Army Corps next step after choosing a preferred plan is to travel around for a “listening tour.” So be sure to look for announcements of their visit to your area.
Back to the slides!
Here are the SFWMD governing board policy considerations building upon Alternative CC. Note algae blooms are now a consideration.
Both Governor DeSantis and the SFWMD put forth statements earlier in the year for the goals of LOSOM. All were big shift in favor of the environment.
As this contentious process continues, we must recognize how much progress has been made for the estuaries. Never before have the estuaries had such a central seat at the table. This will certainly translate into improvements!
Thank you to the Army Corp of Engineers for this remarkable LOSOM NEPA environmental process. I look forward to your decision tomorrow and the continuation of an optimized plan that we can all be proud of.
THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN FOR MR LARRY ROBINSON AND HIS “CUB CLUB” THAT WILL BE FLYING INTO HISTORIC BUCKINGHAM FIELD AIRPORT CLOSE TO THE CALOOSAHATCHEE RIVER IN LEE COUNTY; I THOUGHT THIS MIGHT BE OF INTERESTS TO ALL.
When flying into Buckingham Airport near Ft Meyers, one will surely get a view of the beautiful Caloosahatchee River that runs from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico.
The river, named after the warlike Calusa Indians, has a great history and is unfortunately under great pressure due to man-made changes in its surrounding hydrology. The original lands of the watershed allowed for the waters of the Kissimmee Valley, near Orlando, to move south through the then winding Kissimmee River, into Lake Okeechobee, and then slowly make their way to the Florida Everglades.
Before the late 1880s, the Caloosahatchee was not truly connected to Lake Okeechobee; its headwaters started at Lake Hicpochee, west of today’s Clewiston. Marshlands filled from Lake Hicpochee to Lake Okeechobee in times of heavy rain “connecting” the waterway but this was not lasting.
In the late 1800s investor and land owner, Hamilton Disston, following an old Calusa Indian canal, connected the river permanently to Lake Okeechobee by digging a wide canal. This was done in order to drop the level of the lake and drain the surrounding lands for agricultural development.
Disston was not completely successful but he did inspire others to complete his work in the early 1920s.
People had been farming in Florida south of the Lake Okeechobee since the late 1800s as the muck was very rich and produced wonderful crops. But flooding was a constant issue.
After the horrific hurricanes of 1926 and 1928 that completely flooded the area south of the lake and took thousands of lives, the state of Florida begged the federal government for flooding assistance which resulted in the Cross State Canal being built from Ft Meyers to Stuart and the building of the Herbert Hoover Dike around southern Lake Okeechobee.
The canal allowed not only for east west navigation across the state, but also redirected the waters of Lake Okeechobee that traditionally flowed south to be sent east and west through nearby estuaries: the Caloosahatchee on the west and the St Lucie River/Southern Indian River Lagoon on the east.
After another great storm and flood in 1948, and repeated outcry of the state and public, the Army Corps of Engineers “improved the system” through the Central and South Florida Project by widening and deepening already constructed canals and by building many more.
By the 1960 the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA), south of the lake, became the number one sugar and vegetable producer of the state and one of the top in the nation; fortunes were made in the post-wartime era.
Simultaneous to the success of the EAA, development exploded along the two estuaries, the Caloosahatchee, and St Lucie/Southern Indian River Lagoon. Both of these areas depended heavily on fishing, tourism, and real estate values for their economies so when Lake Okeechobee would overflow and billions of gallons of fresh water would pour into the estuaries disturbing the brackish balance, killing seagrasses, destroying fishing stock and wildlife, of course these cities along the coasts complained.
Over time, even more people have moved the Caloosahatchee and St Lucie areas, and the massive population of Orlando has complicated the situation as “Orlando’s” polluted water full of nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilized lawns and farmlands travels south filling Lake Okeechobee. Since the water cannot go south, it is redirected to the estuaries. As a result, the Caloosahatchee and St Lucie estuaries experience toxic algae blooms during heavy destructive discharges.
This “health and safety” situation came to a head recently during the summer of 2013 when the Army Corps released from Lake Okeechobee for five months straight: May 8th- October 21st. This time became known as the “Lost Sumer” as health departments warned citizens and pets to stay out of the water for months on end.
Due to public outcry, Florida Senator Joe Negron, chair of the Appropriations Committee, organized a “Senate Hearing on the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin” that included studies of both estuaries. Congressman Patrick Murphy invited citizens to Washington DC.
The east and west coasts and many politicians unified during this time, thousands rallied, and news of the toxic waters was told by local, state, national and global media.
The Florida governor, state legislature, US Congress, along with “water managers,” Army Corp of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District, felt tremendous pressure to find alternative ways to store water and clean water north of the lake and to “send more water south.”
Under the 2013/14 state legislative sessions the state legislature and federal government designated monies for both estuaries to help abate these issues. Part of the Tamiami Trail was even “opened” to allow more water to flow south and plans are being made to lift and open more areas in the future. University of Florida water experts are studying the issue.
Unfortunately, in spite of what can be done, this is just the tip of the iceberg as the amount of water that needs to be redirected away from the estuaries is enormous, truly beyond comprehension. This is why many believe Everglades restoration plans are taking entirely too long and that we must find a way to fully restore the Kissimmee River and create a third outlet south of the lake.
One of the things that is hardest for me to comprehend is that my ancestors worked as hard, if not harder, to get the water off the land as I am, trying to keep in on…
According to an article shared by my mother, historian Sandra Thurlow, by Charles S. Miley a newspaper man in Ft Pierce, “prior to the 1920s floods were a common occurrence in the area particularly in the back-coutry.”
The article discusses how a demand for drainage began to develop among land owners as the growing of pineapples was no longer profitable and the people turned to citrus. In 1915 citizens in the area of Ft Pierce “held court” forming the North St Lucie River Drainage District. The headline in the News Tribune paper of 1921 read: ” Drainage of 75,000 Ares of Rich Land Now Under Way.”
I can just see it, “Sam, I think it’s time to form a flood district and utilize our lands.” Go forward just shy of 100 years and the conversation is : “Joe, I think it’s time we get the Army Corp to stop dumping this lousy water into the St Lucie River, ruining my riverfront property values.”
The North St Lucie River Water Control District is still in place today and was created, as all drainage districts of its time, under the provisions of Chapter 298, Florida Statutes, commonly referred to as the “General Drainage Law of Florida.” Today the NSLRWCD falls under the authority of the South Florida Water Management District that historically began really as the Central and South Florida Project, C&SFP.
In 1945 there was massive flooding throughout central and south Florida so the state and its residents called for federal assistance. Sound familiar? It may if you recall that the Hurricane of 1928 caused an even more extreme reaction and the Herbert Hoover Dike was built around Lake Okeechobee by the Army Corp of Engineers. Thus our federal partnerships today. The one that we complain about all the time…Ironic, isn’t it?
The green area is the NSLRWCD’s boundaries; the orange are is the Fort Pierce Farms Drainage District, since 1976 under the South Florida Water Management District.
So, I drifted a bit, but I was talking about the Central and South Florida Project. This large project was formed after the great flood of the 1940s and three huge canals were built during the 50s and 60s as part of this plan: C-23, C-24 and C-25. I drove over them for years with my parents as a kid and had no idea what they really were, I never learned about them in school, and I was 40 years old before I decided I needed to figure them out…
Map of canals system, Matin/St Lucie Counties.
I have not even mentioned the C-44 also known as the “St Lucie Canal” that is further south. This canal drains the basin lands around it as well as being a dumping ground for “overflow waters” of Lake Okeechobee.
The South Florida Water Management’s web site says that after C-23, and C-24 were built, the north fork of the St Lucie River drained lands approximately four times its natural drainage size! That is not even counting C-44 and Lake Okeechobee. Oh, and by the way in 1892 we opened the St Lucie Inlet permanently too.
We are living a world very different than Mother Nature created. From what I’m told she’s moody and a bit irritated. I think I’ll keep working on getting her some of her water back!