The Army Corps of Engineers on Friday agreed to keep discharging Lake Okeechobee water to the West Coast, but not increase the amount 44 percent as previously suggested.
The corps since December has been using infusions of freshwater from the lake to help marine habitats in the Caloosahatchee River that are suffering from rising salinity levels due to lack of rain.
While that lake water is good for sea grass and oyster beds in the Caloosahatchee estuary, sending the water west leaves less backup water for southeast Florida if severe drought conditions return.
The corps had considered increasing those western discharges, but instead decided to stick with current release levels for at least another week.
That will mean sending about 290 million gallons of lake water per day into the river. That’s enough to fill more than 400 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
While that seems like a lot of water, the corps contends it equates to taking only a few tenths of an inch off the 730-square-mile lake that serves as South Florida’s primary backup water supply.
Safety concerns about the 70-year-old dike that protects lakeside communities from flooding limit how much water the corps is willing to store in Lake Okeechobee.
Lake Okeechobee on Friday was 13.20 feet above sea level, more than one foot below normal but within the 12.5 to 13.5 foot range that the Army Corps of Engineers tries to maintain.
Decisions to discharge Lake Okeechobee water to the east and west during 2011 and 2010 dumped hundreds of billions of gallons of water out to sea. That ended up worsening the water supply effects of a drought that last year triggered emergency watering restrictions from Orlando to the Keys.
Lack of reservoirs and other water storage options lead to dumping much of the stormwater that drains into Lake Okeechobee out to sea, to avoid flooding South Florida farms and neighborhoods built on land that used to be part of the Everglades.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun