MEETING REPORT This is a summary of the August 3, WRAC Lake Okeechobee Committeemeeting.
Committee Chair Malcolm “Bubba” Wade called the meeting to order and welcomed everyone. Attendance: 12 of the 28 WRAC Lake Okeechobee Committee members attended the meeting, or were represented by alternates. In addition, five WRAC members not on the committee also attended the meeting.
Provide incentives, similar to Alternative Water Supply grants, to local governments for retrofitting existing stormwater systems;
Timing: the Southwest Florida Basin rule is expected to be completed by the end of 2006; the Lake Okeechobee rule by year end, 2007.
“Tentatively Selected Plan” for the interim Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (2007-2010) –comments and concerns of WRAC Lake Okeechobee Committee and WRAC members included:
Revisions to the SFWMD Supply Side Management Plan are still being identified and evaluated and have not been part of the “TSP” evaluations. This causes concern about lower levels of the schedule and which water supply triggers will be used;
If the “TSP” goes forward, serious water supply problems may result if there is a severe drought combined with high demand growth in the three years covered by the proposed interim schedule.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS):
There had been agreement on the Project Development Team about a high end management level of 17.5’. That has now changed to 17.25’. The Corps should wait for the new SFWMD Supply Side Management Plan to be completed, before selecting an alternative, because the current “TSP” could end up being the wrong alternative.
Significant concern about extended periods of low water under the “TSP”, particularly if the lake goes below 11’ more often than every 5-6 years. Don’t know about finding “jeopardy” for the snail kite, but may have to issue the Corps an “incidental take” finding.
significant concern with the “TSP” regarding extended high wet season discharges to the Caloosahatchee Basin and impacts on sea grasses, especially if flows greater than 4,500 cfs last for an additional 3-4 weeks.
The interim schedule needs to eliminate damaging flows to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC):
Adverse impacts from the proposed “TSP” will not only be more severe than the “WSE” Schedule for water supply, but also for lake ecology and the estuaries.
Florida Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative:
The Lake Okeechobee Minimum Flow and Level rule must be modified and the SFWMD Supply Side Management Plan completed if the “TSP” is to be successful.
concerned about building forward pumps only to have the possibility of a jeopardy opinion issued by the FWS on the snail kite which could prohibit operation of the forward pumps when the lake falls below 10’. Asked for assurances from the FWS that pumps can be operated once built.
Suggested 17.25’ upper lake level restrain should be revisited because of potential adverse impacts to water supply.
United Waterfowlers of Florida:
Concerned about how lake water releases will be governed under the “TSP”.
Lee County supports the objective of the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule revisions but disagrees that the “TSP” is the best alternative.
The 17.25’ project constraint will likely result in Caloosahatchee taking an unfair share of high discharges. Need to go to 17.5’ or 18.0’.
4,500 cfs at S-77 is a significant “harm” level for the Caloosahatchee estuary. Corps needs to include data from S-79 to evaluate total flows to the estuary.
Use of a 17.25’ level as project constraint means more water must be discharged to the estuaries, and this results in a “new level of service” of flood protection for the lakeside communities.
The water coming down the Caloosahatchee from the Lake is all “dirty” water. This has a adverse impact on the estuary.
City of Miramar:
Concerned about water supply performance under the “TSP”; there appears to be more adverse impacts on water supply than with the existing “WSE” schedule.
CORPS OF ENGINEERS RESPONSES/COMMENTS – “TSP”:
The “Tentatively Selected Plan” for the interim Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule revisions will be posted for a formal 45-day public review on August 18.
Written comments from stakeholders and the public will be accepted by the Corps during that period. Comments should offer suggestions and improvements to the “Tentatively Selected Plan” and the Corps will do everything possible to adjust the plan within the basic parameters, using the 17.25’ lake level as a project constraint.
The 17.25’ constraint is drawn from the Herbert Hoover Dike Rehabilitation Report. The report stated there is major concern if the lake level reaches 18.5’. There is concern at 17’. The Jacksonville District Commander concluded that the lake level of 17.25’ should be a project constraint because it will provided room for storage and enable safe management of lake levels to prevent harm to the dike.
There will be public hearings conducted by the Corps from September 18-22, 2006, in Clewiston, Okeechobee, Ft. Myers and Stuart.
The proposed “TSP” included a placeholder for the SFWMD “Supply Side Management Plan” currently being completed by the SFWMD. The intent is to include a 1’ drop in the lake level that would trigger Supply Side Management, as a draft, working level, and to include the actual numbers when the SFWMD completed the Supply Side Management plan, including the plan for forward pumps.
There has been a “pre-permit” planning meeting regarding the plan for operation of temporary forward pumps.
The “TSP” provides much more flexibility in water management of lake levels. That is something most everyone had agreed on.
Stakeholders can call in to Project Delivery Team meeting, Tuesday, August 8, to recommend further improvements to the “TSP”.
SFWMD Governing Board directed staff to evaluate proposed revisions to the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule and provide comments to the Governing Board, which will then provide the agency position on the proposed revisions.
Water Supply Impacts: new work is being done to complete the Supply Side Management Plan, including new modeling. SFWMD Staff is analyzing the SSM line as represented in the “TSP” and will propose a Supply Side Management Plan that has the same performance for low lake levels as the TSP. SFWMD will continue to use the latest information available – impacts of “TSP” and other projects such as Accelerate and CERP projects – to determine appropriate water supply allocations in times of drought.
Because the “TSP” for the schedule revisions is based on an interim schedule assumption (2007-2010), the modeling work done assumed that the planned Accelerate and CERP projects would not be on line. That will be taken care of when the study for the new schedule (2010 and beyond) begins in 2007.
A permit application for the temporary forward pumps has been submitted to the Corps.
Question about whether Corps will evaluate only Lake Okeechobee habitat and Hoover Dike issues when drafting the Environmental Impact Statement or whether effects from a greater Everglades perspective will also be considered.
New model results need to be provided to the FWS before coordination reports are completed by the FWS.
Corps needs to consider Caloosahatchee basin flows based on data from S77 and S79 in the same way it considers flows in the St. Lucie system.
Question about whether there is a better way to balance out flows to prevent a higher share of the adversity in the Caloosahatchee?