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New Lake Okeechobee water plan offers hope, residents says

Published: Jul. 22, 2021 at 4:46 PM EDT
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A Stuart-based group is calling on the Army Corps of Engineers to find ways to keep reducing water discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the St Lucie River.

However, when the Rivers Coalition met Thursday in Stuart, there was a sense of relief among those in attendance.

"We have been heard we are making progress," said Stuart resident Caryn Hall.

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She believes fighting for the St. Lucie River for multiple years finally paid off this week.

The Army Corps of Engineers on Monday made a preliminary selection of a new water management plan that aims to send less water from Lake Okeechobee and potentially less algae into the St. Lucie River.

Caryn Hall is among those who attended a Rivers Coalition meeting in Stuart on July 22, 2021.
Caryn Hall is among those who attended a Rivers Coalition meeting in Stuart on July 22, 2021.

The Rivers Coalition drafted a letter asking the Corps to refine their preliminary discharge plan,"further reducing harm to the St. Lucie Estuary."

"I believe in the power of the people. I believe in the voice of the people, and as long as you can rally them and get them out, things will change," Hall said.

But there is also a sense that now is not the time to relax.

The Corps will spend the next year working to modify the so-called "Alternative CC" plan of sending water east, west and also to the south into the Everglades.

The new plan would triple the water discharges to the south and reduce water into the St. Lucie...
The new plan would triple the water discharges to the south and reduce water into the St. Lucie Estuary by two-thirds.

"We're happy with where we're at. We're going to see it through," said John Maehl, Martin County's ecosystem restoration manager.

Maehl said this part of the Treasure Coast will keep trying to end all water releases.

"The only balance we have is if we have zero releases because we have zero benefits," Maehl said. "We know we can't get there with lake management, but we'll continue to push for that."

The Rivers Coalition plans to be part of the public input the Corps will be looking for as it modifies the "Alternative CC" plan.

John Maehl says he will continue to push for zero freshwater discharges from the lake.
John Maehl says he will continue to push for zero freshwater discharges from the lake.

"It's bad for health. It's bad for fishing. It's bad for everything. Nothing good about it, but we hate to see it go to the west coast too," said Don Wilson, a fisherman in Stuart.

Col. Andrew Kelly with the Army Corps of Engineers said the plan selected is a good trade-off for the St. Lucie River.

However, he said the Lake Okeechobee system is still designed to release some water to the west and to the east.

The Rivers Coalition does feel that their voice is being heard and said they will keep pushing for less water from Lake Okeechobee.

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