The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, in charge of all operations related to Lake Okeechobee, is managing water releases from the lake into the sea because water levels are high.

Last Tuesday, the Sun Sentinel reported that “dumping the lake water out to sea is already threatening to wipe out sea grasses, oyster beds, sport fish and other marine life in the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.” According to that same article, Col. Alfred Pantano Jr. — the Corps’ Florida commander — told Palm Beach County officials, “We are willingly and knowingly damaging the ecosystem … because protecting the public is foremost.”

The Corp clearly explains on its website that there is no storage capacity at the Kissimmee-Everglades-Okeechobee watershed, but Randy Smith, spokesperson for the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), points to other storage options.

Fact sheets supplied to The Florida Independent by Smith explain how “the South Florida Water Management District has been working with a coalition of other agencies, environmental organizations, ranchers and researchers to enhance opportunities for storing excess surface water on private, public and tribal lands.”

Among other benefits, those water storage options enhance “ongoing Lake Okeechobee and estuary ecological improvement projects.”

Why can’t the Corps take advantage of SFWMD’s storage plans, and avoid causing ecological harm? “The agreements that would allow us to store water on those lands are not in place,” says Corps spokesperson Nanciann Regalado. “They are responsibility of the SFWMD.”

Photo courtesy flickr.com/photos/jaxstrong

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