The US Army Corps of Engineers is set to release a new update this week to the new Lake Okeechobee System Operations Manual (LOSOM), as some stakeholders continue to push for changes to the document. which will govern the Lake O releases for the next few years.
The new operations manual will dictate where Lake O’s water resources go and when, leading to predictable battles over the language of the manual.
Legislators and community actors have expressed their concerns that the LOSOM language continued to take shape. With a new update due on Friday, some are still concerned about the direction of the Corps, though this updated language may very well address some of those concerns.
Collar. James Boothcommander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District, spoke last week as part of a panel at the Florida Chamber Foundation’s Water Permitting School. At the meeting held on Marco Island, Booth brought up the plan during his interviews.
“Over the past few months, we’ve been working on the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) project, as well as the water monitoring plan,” Booth told attendees.
“We sent a few versions of it. We are in the process of refining this, and then we will submit it for review by a public agency on July 29.
Expect lots of feedback once this new language is released.
Ernie Barnett, executive director of the Florida Lands Council, also spoke at last week’s event on Marco Island and expressed concerns about the current direction of the Corps plan. His two main concerns were a lack of detail in the plan and a fear that the Corps would have too much authority over water flow, which could lead to decisions the state might not agree with.
“Who is really in charge of the water supply?” Barnett asked. “Shouldn’t that be the state of Florida?”
Barnett said he understands the Corps needs to evacuate water when Lake O’s water level gets too high and make adjustments when the lake is at the lower end. But he said the most recently released draft gave the Corps too much authority.
“I believe they infringe on existing legal user rights,” Barnett argued.
Barnett, however, hinted that Friday’s update might fix some of those issues.
“That’s what was in the last draft. And we hope they have made efforts to address those concerns that have been raised.
But as it stands, Barnett fears the existing language will hamper the state’s ability to stave off drought during a drier time.
“Droughts are much more difficult to manage, from a water use and water management perspective, than even floods, because they persist for long periods of time and many people can be affected by them. affected,” Barnett said.
“The best way to handle a crisis is not to go into a crisis. And if you’re only allowed to make decisions about how to deal with water shortages after you’ve already been in a reservoir of water, you don’t have the ability to avoid that crisis.
It is a problem that U.S. Representative Lois Frankel raised during the LOSOM development process. Frankel, the former mayor of West Palm Beach, governed the city during a drought.
“The City of West Palm Beach is very concerned that Grassy waters (preserve)which is the drinking water of West Palm Beach and Palm Beach County, was not properly considered in the LOSOM process,” Frankel told Booth at a November meeting in Washington.
“I was mayor of the city during a drought. We arrived a few days after having had no water. And the city depends on water from Lake Okeechobee – that is, quality water for Lake Okeechobee – so that we can really live.
Barnett made it clear that he did not believe the Corps would deliberately ignore drought conditions, but stressed that the Corps’ priorities might simply differ from those of the state.
“I don’t think the Corps would make these decisions on purpose. But they have no statutory or legal obligation to ensure that individual water supply permits — for residential use, public water supply, other beneficial uses — that those permits are complied with,” Barnett said.
“The water management district has the legal responsibility to make sure the water is there and available. And that’s why we believe that whoever has the responsibility to protect the water supply should be the one who decides where the water goes when a water shortage approaches.
Last week’s panel meeting on Marco Island featured several other notable interested parties discussing Florida’s water issues. The panel included Drew Bartlettexecutive director of the South Florida Water Management District; Adam BlalockAssistant Secretary for Ecosystem Restoration in the Department of Environmental Protection; larry williamsFlorida State Supervisor for the US Fish and Wildlife Service; Steve Walker, founding member of Lewis, Longman & Walker; and Anna UptonCEO of Everglades Trust.
This gives an idea of the number of eyes on Friday’s release. For his part, Booth argued that the Corps has taken time to process the information and ensure it is reflected in the new documents.
“We’ve been on the brakes for about three months to make sure these documents were clear, accurately represented what was modeled and we’re ready to roll it out and we’re looking forward to it,” Booth said.
But the still contentious battle over the state’s water supply has led to pushback from different sides as the Corps scrambles to fine-tune LOSOM.
Late last year, U.S. Rep. Greg Steube argued that too much water would flow into the Caloosahatchee River under the new plan.
“I understand the Corps’ desire to find a compromise with stakeholders, but the selected model still does not align with what is best for the lake ecology, lake communities, and agriculture,” Steube told Florida Politics.
“Lake discharges must be distributed fairly, and the Corps must not pick regional winners and losers when determining water flow. We must find a solution that does not keep the lake level too high for too long. long, which does not have a maximum flow when the lake reaches a certain level and which ensures that the water supply is protected when the lake is low.
Rep. Brian Mastwho represents Florida’s southeast coast, saw “good and bad” in the plan.
“The good news is that under the proposed plan, more water may flow south into the Everglades, while less water will likely flow east and west during the months summer, when the risk of algal blooms is highest. This is an improvement from the very poor status quo,” Mast said in a written statement.
“At the same time, however, this plan falls far short of truly redressing the balance of justice in water management in Florida. Critics will say this level of progress is impossible until more infrastructure is built, but that’s bulls**t.
But Barnett pushed back on the “send water south” framing during his Marco Island speech.
“My one plea — to the Corps, to the District, to anyone — we need to stop saying that sending the water south is the solution,” Barnett said.
“Sending water south is a tool, a strategy, that you could use on occasion. It’s not the end of the game. It’s not the goal. »
He also argued that farmers have a vested interest in protecting the environment on which they depend.
“Farmers are good stewards. Farmers care about water. And farmers want to support government actions to support this ecosystem,” Barnett said.
“I think there’s a certain perception out there that to restore the Everglades, you have to take the water out of the water supply. In order to meet the water supply, conversely, you are not going to be able to restore the Everglades. And I think that is, categorically, a misconception. There are ways to manage Lake Okeechobee that are beneficial to the Everglades, beneficial to protecting coastal estuaries, but respecting and respecting the water rights of existing legal users. You can do all three with the right schedule. And that’s where we think this plan will hopefully be refined.