U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds remains concerned with the current leading proposal for regulating water levels in Lake Okeechobee. But after a meeting with leadership for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Naples Republican feels optimistic his concerns will be addressed.
Donalds and his staff met Monday morning with Col. Andrew Kelly of the Army Corps. The agency last week announced “Balanced Alternative CC” as a preliminary preferred alternative to update the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual. That’s a plan embraced by many in Southeast Florida because it cuts discharges and blue-green algae releases into the St. Lucie.
But discharges still occur in the Caloosahatchee River, which runs through Donalds’ jurisdiction in Florida’s 19th Congressional District.
“We met with Col. Kelly this morning to discuss the numerous issues we have with iteration CC in its current form,” he said.
The Representative said he left the meeting confident certain changes could be made that protect constituents in his community.
“We discussed the significant potential in SR 3.5 put forth by SFWMD (the South Florida Water Management District) and we also went over next steps procedurally,” Donalds said. “We feel it was a productive conversation and will re-evaluate things after modifications are officially announced. At the end of the day we need to measure flows from S-79, cap flows in zone D at 2,100 cfs (cubic feet per second) and keep optimizing and staying involved until we get this thing landed.”
The S-79 Spillway and Lock regulates water flow into the Caloosahatchee near Olga.
Donalds since the preliminary selection of that plan co-signed a letter led by U.S. Rep. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, raising concerns.
Steube specifically mentioned the Caloosahatchee in the letter, also sent to Kelly.
“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,” Steube wrote.
U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, a Stuart Republican representing St. Lucie communities, for his part celebrated the selection of Plan CC.
“Today is the outcome we’ve been working towards for years, but it’s far from a checkered flag, and we can’t let our foot off the gas,” Mast tweeted immediately after the Army Corps endorsed the plan.
Mast and Donalds, ahead of the plan’s selection, seemed to be in agreement on paths forward and had signed onto a letter with seven conservation groups urging “a more equitable operational plan that strives to send the maximum amount of water to the Everglades, Everglades National Park, and Florida Bay during the dry season and eliminate harmful discharges to St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries and the Lake Worth Lagoon.”