..as reported in the South Florida Sun Sentinel


Dumping of lake water to continue, study warns of water threats

By Andy ReidĀ 
April 28

More Lake Okeechobee water will flow west and out to sea, instead of being stored for South Florida drought needs, the Army Corps of Engineers decided Monday.

The Army Corps today plans to resume releasing lake water to the Caloosahatchee River. The 11-day infusion of fresh water from the lake is intended to compensate for lack of rain in the coastal estuary, where rising salt levels threaten sea grasses vital to fishing as well as the potential to use the river for drinking water.

However, more releases mean less water in the lake, which is used to irrigate farms and for backup drinking water supplies in South Florida.

The contradiction of sending water out to sea, even as state water managers warn of worsening drought conditions, was one of the problems highlighted in a report released Monday that raises questions about the future of South Florida’s water supply.

The region could face a future of dried-out wells and more political fights over how to serve a growing population, even as flood control systems become overwhelmed by rising sea levels because of climate change, according to a study the Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties commissioned.

Finding solutions requires developing alternative water supplies and conservation methods, said Lance Gunderson, co-author of the study and professor of environmental studies at Emory University.

In addition to finding better ways to manage Lake Okeechobee, future solutions should include small-scale measures such as adding cisterns to homes, Gunderson said.

Simple changes such as building with permeable surfaces, instead of concrete, could allow more rainfall to restock underground drinking water supplies, Gunderson said.

“This drought actually could be something that triggers another set of changes in how we manage the system,” he said. “This is an opportunity to rethink the way water is managed and supplied.”

Long-term water supply plans and efforts to develop new sources are in place to address South Florida’s needs, according to a letter the district released Monday in response to the study.