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Release of Lake Okeechobee draft plan delayed

The final version of LOSOM will guide the Army Corps’ Lake Okeechobee decision-making for at least a decade. (Army Corps, Jacksonville District)

The release of the latest draft plan that addresses a variety of issues concerning Lake Okeechobee has been delayed.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who manage the lake, has been working on its Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual, or LOSOM, since 2018. Its purpose is to come up with guidelines to improve lake conditions, control water discharges and address the interests of the Seminole Tribe, among other goals. It is designed to guide the Corps’ Lake Okeechobee decision-making for at least a decade.

The latest draft was expected to be available for review this spring, however the Corps said in a statement May 11 that the draft wouldn’t be released until mid-summer. According to the Corps, the delay is necessary for further review of feedback received from federal, state and tribal entities and members of the public. 

“Through the last three years of this process, LOSOM has enjoyed extraordinary levels of engagement from our partners and stakeholders,” Tim Gysan, LOSOM project manager, said in a statement. “This latest part of the process continued that trend of unprecedented public engagement. The Jacksonville District team feels the substantive comments we received deserve careful consideration as we work to find the best solution for the future management of Lake Okeechobee.”

The tribe’s interests include ensuring that water levels are high enough that current and future agricultural needs are met on the Big Cypress and Brighton reservations. The tribe has also sought treatment as a sovereign entity when it comes to Lake Okeechobee water allocations.

The Corps is faced with a juggling act to ensure LOSOM meets a variety of needs. Those include sending water south to areas of the Everglades National Park and Florida Bay, maintaining enough water during drought conditions, and protecting estuaries from lake discharges that can set off toxic blue-green algae blooms.

The new LOSOM timeline, required under the National Environmental Policy Act, is now scheduled to begin in late July rather than in May. A final plan expected to go into effect late this year is now set to be in place in early 2023. More information about LOSOM can be found here, or by visiting saj.usace.army.mil/losom/.

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Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at damonscott@semtribe.com.
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