Storage Solutions North of Lake Okeechobee Needed to Reduce Discharges

For decades, Audubon has advocated for water treatment and storage solutions north of Lake Okeechobee to address water issues while supporting broader Everglades restoration goals.

In February, the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) announced plans to discharge water from Lake Okeechobee to the coasts to reduce water levels in the lake. High water in Lake Okeechobee both increases flood risk to nearby communities and harms the overall health of the lake. However, water discharges could create conditions for harmful algal blooms in both the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries. 

For decades, Audubon has advocated for water treatment and storage solutions north of Lake Okeechobee to address these issues while supporting broader Everglades restoration goals. Water storage projects north of the lake will prevent the lake from getting too high during wet periods and will store water for use during dry periods.

Given the high nutrient levels in this watershed, water treatment is needed as a project feature for north of Lake Okeechobee efforts to address pollution concerns.  

The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) and USACE are working together to meet the region’s water storage needs. These efforts include the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project, the Lower Kissimmee Stormwater Treatment Area project, and most recently, the Lake Okeechobee Component A Storage Reservoir (LOCAR).

LOCAR is the largest storage feature of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Program north of the lake and includes plans for a 200,000-acre-foot reservoir. The project will store water during wet periods for use in drier times, while also providing flexibility for managing the lake and basin water levels to enhance overall environmental health.

The Section 203 Feasibility Study and Report, recently released ahead of schedule by the agencies, outlines a plan to improve the quantity, quality, timing, and distribution of water entering the lake. Audubon and our partners have voiced support for LOCAR through a joint letter, emphasizing the project’s necessity and importance particularly in light of the ongoing Lake Okeechobee releases.

Our water managers need more options to reduce high water level conditions. Additional water storage infrastructure projects, like LOCAR and the critical Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir project, will allow us to move water more efficiently and effectively to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay. To get there, we have to continue to fully fund Everglades restoration efforts and we must ensure that projects like LOCAR receive Congressional authorization so that they may move forward as quickly as possible.

This article also appeared in the Spring 2024 State of the Everglades report. Click here to read more.

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