Lake O discharges start Saturday. What are we going to do about that?

Lake Okeechobee discharges started up again on February 23rd

For months we’ve been predicting it. Thursday it became official:

Beginning Saturday, Feb. 17, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will begin hammering the northern estuaries with discharges from Lake Okeechobee.

In a press release the Corps said water will go east, west and south: 4,000 cubic feet per second to the Caloosahatchee, 1,800 cfs to the St. Lucie and 500 cfs to the Lake Worth Lagoon.

The Caloosahatchee has already been getting some 2,000 cfs; the estuary needs some freshwater to maintain salinity levels. The St. Lucie River doesn’t.

Releases are being made now to lower the lake level as much as possible before the wet season and to avoid high-volume releases, if possible, during oyster-spawning season or peak algal-bloom months.” according to the Corps.

Pay attention to that “if possible,” for there was no word on the duration of the releases.

This is going to hurt. Bad.

For the sake of reference: That 1,800 cfs into the St. Lucie equates to 13,464 gallons per second, just under 1.2 billion gallons per day, enough to fill 1,762 Olympic-sized swimming pools daily (check out the calculator at for more).

Again: We knew this was coming. The lake on Wednesday stood just under 16.4 feet, well above where it should be at this point in the dry season. The discharge rates are the maximum allowed under the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule 2008 (LORS08) which is still in effect until the new Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM) replaces it sometime this year (if LOSOM were in effect the St. Lucie wouldn’t be receiving discharges).

The Corps said if it keeps raining, discharges could increase.

Help is on the way in the form of new storage capacity, projects like the vaunted EAA Reservoir. The C44 Reservoir is already online, but constrained in terms of its capacity due to “seepage” issues.

But our fear, all along, is that elected officials and even some conservationists have been lulled into a sense of false security. Even if the EAA Reservoir works as promised, and there are questions about that — it won’t be enough to end discharges for good.

For that, we need more land, more storage south of the lake. But few have been pushing for this. No elected officials have made it a priority.

Now, in response to the discharges, you’ll hear a lot of people saying we just have to be patient.

That’s not good enough.

We along the estuaries have been patient long enough. We’ve suffered enough harm. Discharges must cease for good. And as that requires more land south of the lake, the push for this must begin now, because it can take a decade or more for projects to come to fruition.

Ask your local elected officials what they’re doing to end discharges once and for all. For until they do more — it’ll continue to be deja vu, all over again.