The Honorable R.D. James, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, completed a site visit on August 15, 2018 to south Florida to better understand the conditions there and in the coastal estuaries related to Lake Okeechobee discharges.
James met with Mr. Federico Fernandez, chairman of the Governing Board for the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), Mr. Ernie Marks, SFWMD executive director, and Colonel Jason Kirk, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Jacksonville District commander, and Kirk's staff during the visit.
James visited Lake Okeechobee, the St. Lucie Estuary near Stuart, and the Caloosahatchee Estuary in Cape Coral to see firsthand the devastating algae blooms and red tide that have affected south Florida. He reaffirmed the USACE commitment to working with Federal and state partners in managing Lake Okeechobee after seeing the coastal areas. James is committed to moving water south from the lake and to utilizing innovative techniques as needed.
"I fully support Colonel Kirk's decision to 'pulse' Lake Okeechobee discharges in order to mitigate the impacts of the releases and fulfill our duty of keeping the American people safe in the case of a natural disaster," said James.
Throughout the year, USACE strives to keep lake levels between 12.5 and 15.5 feet, NGVD29, to provide for flood damage risk reduction, which is the primary congressionally authorized purpose of Lake Okeechobee, and to ensure the structural stability of the dike surrounding the lake. During wet and hurricane seasons, it is critical for public safety that the lake be maintained at levels that will provide it with the water storage capacity to absorb runoff from a major storm or hurricane. Planning for flood damage risk reduction must also be balanced with other authorized lake uses such as navigation, recreation, and water supply.
Lake Okeechobee's water elevation is currently 14.5 feet, about a foot higher than the level USACE would ideally have in the lake at this time of year.