Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Steube says he wants adjustments made to the new Lake Okeechobee regulation schedule announced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers earlier this week.
The Corps selected Plan CC Monday out of a group of five regulation proposals. Steube and his four co-signers — U.S. Reps. Kat Cammack, Mario Díaz-Balart, Byron Donalds and Daniel Webster — do praise portions of that plan in a letter sent to Col. Andrew Kelly of the Army Corps. But they also raise concerns that not enough water will be sent to municipalities and farmers who rely on Lake O’s water.
“While Plan CC appears to meet certain project purposes including flood control, navigation and recreation, it falls short on other purposes,” the letter reads.
“In the case of water supply, more than 7 million Floridians and thousands of businesses tied to tourism, agriculture, health care and construction depend on water supply from Lake Okeechobee, and expected that LOSOM would result in a plan that meets the water supply purpose by restoring the water supply performance that existed prior to the current schedule. As such, prior to the final selection of a LOSOM plan, we are requesting that the Corps explain how Preliminary Preferred Plan CC will be adjusted to restore the water supply function on which we depend, and how optimization will be performed to meet this serious deficit.”
Environmental groups largely praised the Army Corps’ announcement this week, a big step in its Lake Okeechobee Systems Operation Manual (LOSOM) development process. Another Republican member of Florida’s congressional delegation, Rep. Brian Mast of Florida’s 18th Congressional District, also approved of the Army Corps’ selection.
Plan CC will see reductions in discharges to the Lake Worth Lagoon and St. Lucie Estuary. Algae grows inside the lake. When water levels rise — or when discharges are necessary to keep Lake O from flooding — that algae can pour out of the lake into other waterways.
But discharges to the Caloosahatchee estuaries are set to increase, and Steube and fellow cosigners argue that balance is now out of whack.
“Throughout the LOSOM process, we have heard the need for ‘shared adversity.’ However, as mentioned during public briefings, Plan CC results in more frequent damaging discharges to the Caloosahatchee River in favor of fewer discharges to the St. Lucie River Basin. Lake Okeechobee’s ecology itself also seems to fare less than our constituents expected under Plan CC. We strongly urge you to correct these disparities as the plan is optimized.”
The debate over Lake Okeechobee is one of the most visible intra-party battles among Florida Republicans. Prior to the 2021 Legislative Session, a call by Senate President Wilton Simpson to fund construction north of the lake led to a sharp rebuke from Mast, as he accused Simpson of “pitting north versus south.”
It’s unclear what adjustments, if any, the Army Corps could make to the proposed Plan CC. But Steube and his cohorts are pushing for changes before the Army Corps finalizes the regulation schedule in November.
“Please know we appreciate your commitment to seeking public input throughout the LOSOM process,” the letter concludes. “The Lake Okeechobee watershed impacts millions of residents in 16 Florida counties and as such, we hope the final optimized plan selected by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will provide the greatest benefit to the most water users throughout the entire ecosystem, and adhere to the mandates from Congress.”