Dear friend of One Martin,
In 2019 the Army Corps of Engineers began to develop a new plan for the operation of Lake Okeechobee called the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual, or LOSOM. This has been an ongoing public process, as the entirety of South Florida relies on Lake Okeechobee for flood control, water supply, navigation, recreation, and preservation of fish and wildlife. Various communities have different needs from Lake Okeechobee.
The lakeside communities are reliant upon the lake not only for recreation and tourism, but also for water supply for agriculture, which is their main industry. Additionally, the City of Okeechobee uses the lake as its primary drinking water source.
Water supply is a concern for Palm Beach County, as water from the lake buoys Grassy Waters Preserve that feeds their municipal wells and provides water to the Loxahatchee River to meet environmental needs. Palm Beach County does not want to see an increase in releases to the Lake Worth Lagoon.
Caloosahatchee stakeholders need some water from Lake Okeechobee to keep salinity levels balanced, but they cannot take too much and do not want to be the “relief valve” for the entire system.
Broward and Miami-Dade counties rely on Lake Okeechobee for backup water supply for residential use. The Central and Southern Everglades need the right amount of water sent south at the right time of year to hydrate the system. Water cannot be too high too long or we lose tree islands, fur bearing animals lose their homes, vegetation changes, and so on.
The Everglades were naturally drier in the winter, which is important for the nesting wading birds who fish in drying pools to feed their young. We cannot simply send water south during the dry season and stop estuary discharges; the Everglades needs to recover from the wet season, too.
The Miccosukee and Seminole tribes are sovereign nations residing in the Everglades whose traditions and culture are closely tied to the land and water. They also provide input about how we operate Lake Okeechobee.
Some of the loudest voices in the process reside in Martin County. This is understandable because St. Lucie River discharges from Lake Okeechobee have been devastating. Martin County is reliant on Lake Okeechobee for navigational purposes, but unlike other areas, we don’t need water from Lake Okeechobee.
Stopping harmful releases from the lake is a goal as we complete the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). However, LOSOM is not CERP and we cannot expect to stop the discharges by simply operating Lake Okeechobee differently.
Sadly, this process has created animosity between neighboring communities, and some have resorted to inaccurate information, lies, and even personal attacks. For instance, you may have heard that ‘sugar lobbyists” are on the Project Delivery Team to write the LOSOM Plan. The truth is that two consultants (Tom MacVicar and Bill Baker) have been hired to represent the lakeside communities which is a typical protocol. Martin County has also hired people to represent them in the process.
You may have also heard the Army Corps has suddenly changed their objectives because of pressure from the sugar industry. Not true. The goals of LOSOM have been established since the beginning and the Army Corps is legally required to meet these goals. This lie is born out of frustration that we cannot get what we want, and we must consider the needs of Lake Okeechobee and our neighbors.
The latest lie is that we have identified a plan that is “best” for the river and other plans are written by agriculture for their benefit.
The current set of plans being vetted are a combination of the elements of conceptual plans presented early on. At the end of this process elements of the plan submitted by the Everglades Foundation or Audubon are likely to be put together with elements of the plan submitted by the Lakeside Communities or Stuart. The truth is, when we get to a “preferred alternative” in July, it will not look like any of the plans currently being pushed forward by any group of stakeholders.
Developing a new LOSUM can be accomplished without being parochial, dishonest, and inconsiderate toward our neighbors. At the end of the day, compromises will occur, because we all deserve a balanced schedule.