While a discharge schedule for Lake Okeechobee left Southeast Florida pols pleased, lawmakers in Southwest Florida express increasing alarm.
A letter from members of the Lee, Collier and Hendry county delegations to federal officials calls for significant adjustments. That comes after the Army Corps of Engineers picked a plan that stops discharges into the St. Lucie River but still has to direct blue-green algae-infested water someplace.
“The preliminary plan falls short in protecting the water resources of the Caloosahatchee River and Estuary,” the latest lawmaker letter reads.
Rep. Spencer Roach, a North Fort Myers Republican and chair of the Lee County Legislative Delegation, led the multicounty effort. It’s co-signed by Sens. Ben Albritton, Kathleen Passidomo and Ray Rodrigues and Reps. David Borrero, Adam Botana, Mike Giallombardo, Lauren Melo, Jenna Persons-Mulicka and Bob Rommel. All the signers are Republicans, who maintain a significant political grip in Southwest Florida.
The Army Corps chose proposed Plan CC as a preliminary favorite last month, a move largely praised by environmental groups and cheered by U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, a Stuart Republican who has heavily criticized the existing discharge schedule, or the LORS08 schedule, for spurring blue-green algae blooms on along the St. Lucie.
But the letter from Southwest Florida suggests the Caloosahatchee River, which has also suffered its share of algal blooms, suffers as a result of the plan as drafted.
“We are concerned that the Corps selected a preliminary preferred plan for LOSOM that results in the highest volume of harmful discharges to the Caloosahatchee River and Estuary, even above the existing LORS08 schedule,” the letter reads. “After spending $1.8 billion to repair the Lake’s dike and expecting that LOSOM would result in a better schedule than LORS08 for the Caloosahatchee River and Estuary, we are dismayed that the Corps is considering a plan that instead increases harmful discharges to our community.
Plan CC will see reductions in discharges to the Lake Worth Lagoon and St. Lucie Estuary. The discharges that place to keep Lake Okeechobee from flooding, but it is typically accompanied by algae that pour out of the lake into other waterways. The selected plan calls for increases in discharges to the Caloosahatchee estuaries.
That’s something that already drew concern from members of Congress representing Southwest Florida. U.S. Rep. Greg Steube penned a letter to the Army Corps last month criticizing the selection of Plan CC.
The letter led by Roach said there are improvements that can happen to the plan to make it more palatable to those on the Gulf Coast.
Lawmakers ask for all discharges to the Caloosahatchee to be measured at the Franklin Lock S-79, saying no discharges should be restricted to no more than 2,100 cubic feet per second there. They also say more should be discharged to a water shortage zone at the C-43 reservoir.
One suggestion sure to inspire pushback from the wast, lawmakers say some releases must go to the St. Lucie Estuary. “Benefits of sending water south and storing water in Lake Okeechobee must be shared,” the letter states.
The letter suggests the state of Florida should have jurisdiction and a level of control over what happens at the lake.
“The State of Florida has the fundamental legal right to allocate water within its borders. The LOSOM preliminary plan CC adversely affects the water supply performance of millions of south Floridians and countless businesses, because it does not deliver the 1 in 10 level of water supply performance,” it reads.
In short, lawmakers say the communities along the Caloosahatchee cannot be forced to bear the brunt of algal blooms.
“The health of our Estuary is of paramount importance to our community. It is also critical that the fundamental rights of the State of Florida to allocate water to its users is not usurped by the Federal Government,” the letter closes. “We have enjoyed a long history of jointly implementing and operating the Central and South Florida Project as well as the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. We look forward to continued work together and urge you to meet our request.”