Don’t let Big Sugar dominate the LOSOM conversation

Big Sugar’s at it again.

And if we want a more equitable plan for Lake Okeechobee which minimizes the chance of pulverizing discharges to the coasts, then we need to respond.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is in the final stretch of the years-long project to craft the new Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual, or LOSOM. The Corps recently released its Draft Environmental Impact Statement and is taking public comments through Sept. 12. The first in a series of virtual meetings was held Aug. 9 for stakeholders south of the lake.

And those concerned about “water supply” — meaning Big Sugar and its allies — showed up in force.

Commenter after commenter slammed the plan, saying it was too vague and failed to provide the certainty farmers need. Others grumbled that even though the plan forecasts improving performance for water supply, it’s not enough.

One sugar consultant, Tom MacVicar, even said the Army Corps should “pause” the LOSOM process.

Even now, after three years of work to improve the very flawed management of Lake O, Big Sugar is clinging tightly to the status quo that protects its lucrative water supply — while forcing the northern estuaries and Everglades to suffer. 

This was to be expected. Throughout the entire LOSOM process, Big Sugar has fought to protect its existing privileges, and expand them. It wants more water in the lake for irrigation during dry periods. And if that results in the lake filling up faster when the rainy season arrives, increasing the likelihood of discharges to the coasts — and algae blooms that inflict environmental and economic devastation?  

Oh well. That’s not Big Sugar’s problem.

The plan isn’t perfect; the ecology of the lake itself is likely to be harmed because LOSOM will hold lake levels higher for longer periods. And getting the lake down into “recovery mode” to rekindle the growth of submerged aquatic vegetation could require massive discharges to the coasts, albeit for shorter periods of time than we’ve seen in the past.

But the plan is projected to provide significant long-term beneficial effects to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie, in terms of reducing algal bloom risk. The Corps also projects:

  • A 62% reduction in damaging or stressful Lake O events to the Caloosahatchee Estuary
  • A 79% reduction in damaging or stressful Lake O events to the St. Lucie Estuary
  • And a tripling of flows south to the southern Everglades, to 150,000 acre feet a year — though the Corps says this will provide only “negligible to minor long-term beneficial effects.”

The plan, in other words, is pretty balanced, and not skewed radically in favor of “water supply.”

You know they’re not going to stand for that.

As such, expect Big Sugar and its allies to speak up at upcoming virtual meetings — at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 16, where the focus is to be on comments from interests west of the lake, and on Wednesday, Aug. 17, where the focus will be on comments from those east of the lake.

The virtual meetings will be held via the videoconferencing program WebEx at

In addition, an in-person meeting will be held at 3 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 17, at Stuart City Hall. Attend in person if at all possible.

And our friends at Friends of the Everglades will be hosting a live “Clean Water Conversation” with U.S. Army Corps officials from 2-3 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 18, to be livestreamed on Facebook and YouTube; register here for the event.

Speak up to ensure cleaner water for the northern estuaries, the Everglades, Florida Bay and more.

Speak up, or others may dominate this conversation and the outcome.