Environmentalists hopeful dike repairs will bring improved water quality

Published: Jan. 25, 2023 at 4:40 PM EST
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While the completion of the rehab at the Herbert Hoover Dike brings peace of mind to thousands of residents around the lake, there’s also hope for some environmental relief on the Treasure Coast. But that could still be months away.

Environmentalists on the Treasure Coast are hoping it also means fewer discharges to the east into the St. Lucie Estuary, which would also mean fewer toxic algae blooms.

Forty-five miles away from where dignitaries cut the ribbon Wednesday on the $1.5 billion Herbert Hoover Dike rehab project, 323 million gallons of freshwater from Lake Okeechobee are being released into the St. Lucie Estuary daily because of high lake levels.

A fortified dike may change the equation.

"How do we take advantage of the benefits of that capability and operate the lake and the system in a different way?" Col. Jamie Booth with the Army Corps of Engineers in Jacksonville asked.

The Army Corps is putting the finishing touches on a new plan that would guide how and when future discharges would take place.

It's no secret that a stronger Herbert Hoover Dike is about safety first.

"But it does mean that they have less of a risk if they have to hold it higher, for whatever reason, temporarily, at least, that will maybe stay the charges to the estuaries," Marc Perry with the Florida Oceanographic Society said.

"[Lake Okeechobee] can absorb more water and not send the water on to the east and west coast right away," Martin County Administrator Don Donaldson added.

Environmental groups in attendance Wednesday praised the work on the dike and also got a chance to express their concerns to the Army Corps.

"It is not a cure-all," Eve Samples with Friends of the Everglades said. "It's part of a greater system in which we really need more storage and treatment of water south of the lake."

As for how discharges will be handled in the future, the new Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM), should be in place in time for this wet season in May or June.

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