Florida Officials Urge Army Corps To Change Lake Okeechobee Management Plan To Avoid Algae Blooms

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MARTIN COUNTY, FL – The governor of Florida urged the US Army Corps of Engineers to change its action plan to manage discharges from Lake Okeechobee, blaming the increased algae blooms on the federal service responsible for managing discharges from the largest lake in Florida.

Governor Ron DeSantis, Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein and South Florida Water Management District officials held a press conference in Hobe Sound in Johnathan State Park Dickinson on Monday to talk about managing the lake and harmful algal blooms.

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Environmental groups have called on DeSantis to declare an emergency on algal blooms caused by water runoff from Lake Okeechobee.

DeSantis said he took a helicopter ride around the lake on Monday to see the algae blooms. According to the governor, 2019 and 2020 did not see the same problems with toxic algae in the lake because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had taken a different approach to managing the lake’s discharge.

Green sludge-like algae blooms, which can negatively impact the health of wildlife and those living in runoff-related communities, appear to be a growing problem in recent months.

On May 1, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that the blue-green algae bloom in Lake Okeechobee had expanded to about 300 square miles, according to satellite imagery.

“This summer we are seeing evidence of blooms in and around the lake,” DeSantis said. “And because of these high levels, you know, we assume that the body is going to release some of this water that has a lot of algae in it.”

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The governor said the 2019-2020 approach to managing the lake was more effective, essentially asking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop a new manual on managing the lake.

“We want this to be done in a way that will focus on reducing or eliminating harmful discharges during the rainy season during the summer season, so we urge the Corps to allow the kind of flexibility which really (was) done in 2019 and 2020 in the smallest amount to avoid harmful discharges into our estuaries and to improve lake management during the dry season, ”DeSantis said.

South Florida Water Management District President Chauncey Goss echoed the governor’s sentiments.

“There are two important things to do both to improve the health of the lake and to reduce damage and discharge, once and for all,” said Goss. “First, these projects have to be built around the lake because these are storage projects that we are working on. Second, the Corps must improve management of the lake. “

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At the end of April, the US Army Corps of Engineers began increasing the discharge from Lake Okeechobee at the WP Franklin Lock and Dam from 1,000 cubic feet per second to 2,000 cubic feet.

“We are very concerned about the level of the lake as we approach the onset of the rainy season, and long-term weather forecasts paint a potentially rainy seasonal outlook,” said Col. Andrew Kelly, Jacksonville District Commander, in a press release. press release “Although we will need to extract water from the lake to prepare for the next tropical weather season, May is one of the most difficult times to predict and may require us to regularly adjust operations as we go. that conditions change. ”

Eric Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation, said the Corps should direct discharges south during the dry season.

“The foundation, others are calling on the colonel to choose a plan that provides water to the south during the dry season,” Eikenberg said. “In the dry months let’s send water south, as the governor has said countless times, sand, water south to the Keys to Florida Bay.”

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Then, during the rainy season, “we have the ability to raise the lake up and avoid these harmful discharges,” Eikenberg said.

A letter sent to DeSantis on May 8 from the Calusa water warden called on the governor to declare a state emergency order lifting any restrictions on state agencies working together to store or remove water from coastal areas previously affected by toxic blue-green algae.

The Friends of the Everglades were one of 14 groups that asked DeSantis to issue an emergency order.

The governor did not raise the possibility of a state of emergency during Monday’s press conference.

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