Okeechobee News: Local leaders fear potential disaster if Lake O’s level is pushed lower

Article Posted on February 18, 2019

By: Chris Felker, Lake Okeechobee News

CLEWISTON — Concern is growing around Lake Okeechobee that those pushing for rethinking the 12-to-15.5-foot lake levels that have been the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS) guideline for years, fully intend to establish a new low target level of 10.5 feet during the driest part of the year.

Voices are beginning to rise in this debate from Florida’s heartland, away from the coasts, insisting that is a dangerously low baseline and an example of “messing with Mother Nature” that could deal a devastating blow to the economy of all the communities surrounding Lake Okeechobee.

Hendry County Commissioner Karson Turner spoke at his board’s meeting Feb. 13 about the previous evening’s forum where public input was heard by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and South Florida Water Management District officials regarding the proposed Lake Okeechobee Operating System Manual (LOSOM) that would replace LORS. He said his fellow commissioner, Emma Byrd, spoke “very eloquently.” Mr. Turner is president of the County Coalition for Responsible Management of Lake Okeechobee, the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Estuaries and the Lake Worth Lagoon.

He emphatically called for a unified effort by all counties around the lake to speak as one voice and “let the Corps of Engineers hear our concerns that we don’t want to see a 10.5-foot lake be the baseline instead of 12.5 feet.” Mr. Turner cited the pressure from Congressman Brian Mast to end lake releases toward the east coast during the run-up to the wettest months, which Rep. Mast claims resulted last year in a blue-green algae bloom that seriously disrupted the tourist-centered economy of the Atlantic coastal communities.

“I’m going to request that we formally reach out to Palm Beach County, Martin County, Okeechobee County, Glades County and ourselves and we establish a joint workshop, publicly advertised, along with all of the city commissions within those basins — Pahokee, South Bay, Belle Glade, Clewiston, Moore Haven and Okeechobee as well. We need to galvanize because there is strength in those numbers,” Mr. Turner stated.

“This 10.5-foot lake (idea) is garnering a lot of energy, and there’s just simply more people than us that are wanting to eliminate the discharges,” he added. He said he would invite all of the stakeholders along with Rep. Mast, congressional leaders, both of Florida’s senators and others. “They need to hear us. I think we’re all going to be on the same page — the entire lake’s going to be on that page — because we’ve got to protect this water resource.”

He said he would reach out individually but can’t because of the Sunshine Law and his post with the Lake O Coalition, which certainly will be asked to act on the issue…

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