CLOSE

Water from Lake Okeechobee and rainfall within the Caloosahatchee watershed are causing water quality issues in the river's estuary. Wochit

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will slow releases to the Caloosahatchee River and its estuary starting Friday. 

Releases from the lake have been as high as 10,000 cubic feet per second and higher (about 6.5 billion gallons per day) at Franklin Lock and Dam in Olga in recent weeks. And as high as 27,000 cubic feet per second in the days after Hurricane Irma made landfall.

“The lake is starting to slowly recede after hitting a peak of 17.2 feet last month,” said Lt. Col. Jennifer Reynolds, with the Corps Jacksonville office. “We will begin a transition to lower releases starting this week. However, the lake remains at its highest levels in more than a decade, and rainfall this wet season has taken away any option of sending water south."

Flows are expected to decrease from about 10,000 cubic feet per second to 6,500 cubic feet per second. Harm begins to occur in the Caloosahatchee River's estuary when levels are at 2,800 cubic feet per second or higher. 

The heavy freshwater flows from Lake Okeechobee combined with run-off from lands to the north and south of the river have caused freshwater conditions to unnaturally extend several miles into the Gulf of Mexico. 

As Reynolds said, "sending water south" isn't a viable option at this point because all the lands between the Everglades Agriculture Area and Everglades National Park are flooded. 

The surface of Lake Okeechobee was 16.6 feet above sea level Thursday. Army Corps protocols say the surface of the lake should be kept between 12.5 and 15.5 feet above sea level to protect thousands of residents living south of the lake and well as farmlands while also providing drinking water to millions of South Floridians and the environment. 

"We plan to continue releases at this level until December 1," Reynolds said, "which covers the remainder of hurricane season.”

Connect with this reporter: Chad Gillis on Twitter. 

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE
Read or Share this story: http://newspr.es/2ilU1pq