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Lake Okeechobee water levels seem to have peaked following Ian and Nicole

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The water level now stands at 16.25 feet. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' goal has always been to keep releases from the lake "at a minimum."

The Army Corps of Engineers gave a briefing Wednesday in Stuart to the environmental group “The Rivers Coalition.” The goal is to stop discharges into the St. Lucie River from Lake Okeechobee, discharges which often in the past have lead to algae outbreaks polluting the St. Lucie River, and the Indian River Lagoon.

The Army Corps manages Lake Okeechobee and the subject of the briefing was the high water level which has risen above 16 feet following hurricanes Ian and Nicole

USACE Lt. Col. Todd Polk told the Coalition members that the Corps' goal has always been "to keep releases at a minimum, so that we don’t affect the ecological balance on the Lake, as well as that of the estuaries. We’re taking that into account now, unlike we did before.”

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The lake level has risen 3 feet since early September, before Ian and before Nicole. But, barring another storm, Polk says it appears that the rising water level has now peaked. “Bottom line we’re starting to see that peak on the lake. And that’s important. That’s one of the biggest things we’ve been waiting to see. Avoiding the fears and concerns of us going over 16.5 or even higher. That was probably our biggest, number one concern as Nicole came in.”

Most importantly, he said, no releases from Lake O into the St. Lucie Estuary have been necessary, yet. “We have not released anything from the lake here on our side, on the east side. And of course, we’re still sending great numbers to the (Everglades) park, that’s where we want it to go.”

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However, with the onset of the dry season, some of that water will eventually have to be released but when? And where?

Polk said the Corps dry-season strategy has not yet been finalized.

“Prior to Nicole I could have told you we have a firm dry season strategy. But Nicole, it threw us for a loop. Fortunately, it was at the lower end of the spectrum as far as what we saw from rainfall. Today we’re at 16 and a quarter feet, 16.25. And I’ll tell you in about two weeks I’ll tell you where we’re for a dry season strategy.”

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Kevin Kerrigan