The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced this morning it will reduce the discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie Estuary beginning tomorrow.
The 44 percent reduction will mean 420 million gallons per day will flow into the estuary from 756 million gallons per day.
A reduction in flow will also be made in the Caloosahatchee Estuary to 1.8 billion gallons per day from 1.9 billion gallons per day.
“As a result of water releases, drier conditions and decreased inflows, the lake level has started to recede,” said Col. Jason Kirk, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District Commander. “Although the lake is still high for this time of year, current conditions are providing us with the opportunity to further reduce discharges and bring some degree of relief to the estuaries experiencing above normal seasonal algal blooms.”
The announcement comes as the South Florida Water Management District prepares to vote on emergency measures proposed by Gov. Rick Scott to reduce the amount of algae growing in the St. Lucie.
Those include providing money to replace aging residential septic tanks, holding more water on private lands and asking the federal government to speed repairs of the Herbert Hoover Dike.
About 100 people are attending the meeting this morning where district staff have said that conditions have improved in the St. Lucie since intermittent water releases began earlier this month.
The change gives the estuary a two-day break between releases for salinity levels to increase.
The algae bloom was first recognized in Lake Okeechobee in May, but the issue gained national attention when before the July 4 holiday, a widespread bloom inundated the St. Lucie Estuary and closed the popular Bathtub Beach to swimming.
Since then, emergency changes, such as storing water on private lands and discharging water intermittently so salinity levels in the estuary can rebuild between freshwater flows have improved the algae conditions.
No public comment has yet been taken, but environmental activists who support buying land south of the lake for storage and Glades residents who oppose it are both eager to speak.
This week, U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, D-Tallahassee, asked Scott to call a special legislative session to deal with the algae issue. She also echoed the familiar refrain to buy land south of Lake Okeechobee for water storage and cleansing.
“Even with strengthening the Herbert Hoover Dike, it will never be large enough to hold enough water,” Graham wrote in a Wednesday letter. “We must restore Florida’s water flow to the way God and nature intended, by sending the water south.”
But some residents of the Glades disagree.
About a dozen people wore bright yellow shirts that said #OurLivesMatterToo in opposition of buying sugar fields for water storage.
“We ask our neighbors to the north, east and west to understand that there is more to this debate than one company and the people living on the coasts,” wrote Hendry County Commissioner Janet Taylor in a statement she plans to make during public comment. “It’s easy to parrot a phrase like ‘buy the land’, but what that really means is destroy jobs.”