Corps looking to lower Lake O this rainy season to avoid fouling Florida coasts
To avoid another summer of slime, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may drain the lake blamed for polluting Florida coasts even lower than usual as the start of the wet season draws near.
After a meeting to discuss operations Thursday, Lt. Col. Jennifer Reynolds, the deputy district commander for South Florida, said Gov. Ron DeSantis had asked the agency to consider lowering Lake Okeechobee this coming June, a move setting up a standoff with farmers and some utilities over water supplies.
The change is allowed to give engineers flexibility in managing a lake half the size of Rhode Island. The Corps generally tries to keep the lake around 12.5 feet deep at the start of the wet season, leaving plenty of room to accommodate rain. But the limit dips as low as 10.5 feet on the first day of the season June 1.
Given forecasts for a wetter start with a lingering El Niño weather pattern expected to continue through spring, Reynolds said the Corps upped releases and could drop the lake even closer to 10.5 feet. On Friday, the levels had crept back up to 12.77 feet.
“What the governor as well as our headquarters have asked us to look at is how do we lower the lake … as we go into the wet season in order to mitigate the risk of having high volume releases during the hottest, wettest months of the summer because we know the estuaries just can’t handle another catastrophic year,” she said.