Whatever happened to LOSOM – and why is Big Sugar STILL trying to game the outcome?

Algae on Lake Okeechobee near Port Mayaca. Photo by Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch.

Hm. Seems we remember this new “lake management plan” that was being developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for Lake O… what was that called again?

Oh, right — LOSOM. Whatever happened to LOSOM, anyway?

As Ed Killer at TCPalm noted last week, it’s been five long years since the LOSOM process began, and now the proposal lingers in some kind of bureaucratic purgatory. The Corps had to prepare a “biological opinion” on endangered species requested by the National Marine Fisheries Service, which basically wanted to know how LOSOM would impact sea turtles. That opinion was completed, NMFS was reportedly satisfied and LOSOM needed to be tweaked but without any major changes, Corps officials have said in recent months. But it’s still not ready to implement.

When will it be? “Sometime this year,” said the Corps’ Maj. Corey Bell at a recent Rivers Coalition meeting in Stuart.

Hurry up and wait.

The good news is the Corps has been managing the lake with the type of flexibility that will be enshrined in LOSOM. Were the lake being managed in strict accordance with LORS08, the coasts would be getting pummeled with damaging discharges right now. So there’s that.

The bad news is that the usual suspects are still taking potshots at LOSOM, as if they can get changes enacted at this late hour and maybe they can, which is why they’re taking those potshots.

For example, this commentary (paywalled) from Ryan Rossi of the South Florida Water Coalition (which represents water users, chief among them Big Sugar). Rossi rips the “flexibility and balance” shown both in LOSOM and in the way the Corps has managed the lake lately. Writes Rossi: “South Florida must depend on a stable water supply while maintaining drought protections for residents and southerly flow to help replenish the Everglades when needed.”

What’s missing from that sentence? How about preventing devastating discharges to the coast? Were the lake managed the way Rossi suggests, coastal communities would see a whole lot more of those discharges. Apparently that’s just fine with the South Florida (Sugar) Water Coalition.

Big Sugar has tried to circumvent LOSOM before. And the closing line of Rossi’s piece (“South Florida deserves better — and time is running out to get it right”) suggests they’re still trying to circumvent LOSOM now.

But as we stare down a higher-than-usual-for-this-time-of-year lake, we need LOSOM to enshrine the flexibility required to serve ALL stakeholders, which minimizes harm to our estuaries, to marine life and our communities.