Florida’s water woes continue as Florida’s congressional delegation met his past week to try to find a solution for the toxic algae blooms that has plagued south Florida’s waterways.
The main point of contention is lowering Lake Okeechobee’s water levels, a move that Rep. Brian Mast (R) has been advocating for because of his congressional district being adversely affected by the algae blooms.
Mast has received considerable amount of pushback for his proposal to seasonally lower the lake level to 10 ½ ft.
Several of Mast’s colleagues in the U.S. Congress have expressed concern over dropping the lake level, even on a temporary basis.
“I do have some concerns. I am on the side of the people from West Palm Beach, the people of west palm beach, elected officials because they have had studies done, and they know exactly what to recommend to the corps of engineers and what needs to be done to save that particular part of our state.”-Rep. Frederica Wilson (D)
We caught up to Rep. Mast the meeting between legislators and federal and state officials tasked to deal with the issue.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which was present at the meeting and responsible for Lake Okeechobee operations, would not commit to dropping the lake level to 10 ½ ft.
Mast explains how he got to that 10 ½ ft mark.
Q: What do you think about the Corps not committing to lower the lake levels?
Rep. Mast – “Unfortunately, managing Lake Okeechobee is not the exact science. We don’t know how much rain we’re getting tomorrow or next month or two months from now, or how many hurricanes we get, which makes it incredibly difficult. We don’t know exactly how much is going to evaporate, or how much they get north of us that flows in from the Kissimmee and comes in. But, the goal moving into hurricane season is to say “that 10 and a half feet level is not arbitrary, it comes off floors, right?
The Lake Okeechobee regulations scheduling. And, it’s not in the drought band. It’s still in the beneficial use band. So, if we move it lower, closer to that level, there’s still the likelihood that we get a lot of rain in the summer time as we usually get hurricanes, which continues to bring it up. So, you’re reducing the risk of the people south of the Lake from having a breached dyke, you’re reducing our risk of having discharges on the east and the west coast that are a deluge of water. And, you know, you’re spreading the Earth’s ground.”
Can they get exactly there? I don’t know exactly where they can get to.
Q – “What do you think of people saying it can affect the drinking water. Like, let’s say, by lowering it in West Palm Beach.”
Mast – “That’s always a concern. No question. But, when you look at levels of water used, you can look at a couple of points. So, number one, just going on right now politically or whatever you want to call it, infrastructurally (sic). In Palm Beach County, you have the idea of lopping off a portion of grassy waters, you know, to go out there and run a roadway. So, there hasn’t been, you know, as much conversation from some of the people about stopping that when they’re talking about affecting drinking water supply.
But, in the same token, now they are. And then I think if you also look at where the uses of water are, Palm Beach is an example. I don’t have an exact number on yet, I could give you an exact number, but I think it was somewhere close to 40 million gallons of water that the city of West Palm Beach used off of Lake Okeechobee last year for drinking water supply.
In comparison, the number used to measure water off Lake Okeechobee, when they do permits, is a number MGY. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that term? MGY stands for Million Gallons a Year, so 1 equals 1 million, right? So, agriculture last year permitted 865 thousand million gallons a year, right? So, every 150 billion gallons on the lake is about a foot of water. So, it’s not as though there’s not opportunity to reallocate and be fair to all parties involved to make sure that everybody has mitigated risk.”
Q– “How did you get to that 10 and a half foot? It just seems like an arbitrary number.”
Mast – “It’s not arbitrary at all. Lake Okeechobee regulation schedules. So, page 37 of (unintelligible), figure 7-1, it’s the only figure on the page, I think, but figure 7-1, and that says all the bands. That band goes up and down at the top and up and down at the bottom, based upon whether it’s October or November or May or whatever month it is and so beginning of Hurricane season, right about May 15th, that band is down at 10 and a half. So, that’s what’s in Lake Okeechobee regulation schedule right now.
If you look at that, basically look right at May 15, beginning of June, you’ll see it’s down at that 10/5 level, so that’s where it comes from. So, that’s where we say ‘Ok, move it to this part of the band’ instead of, like, last year the goal at the beginning of hurricane season the lake was at 12/10, right? May 15, the Lake was at 12 foot, 10 inches.
And, we had no hurricanes that hit us, but we got discharges all summer long in our area. No hurricanes that hit in our area. But we had discharges all summer. So, let’s expand that buffer. Obviously, we still continue to get plenty of rain. And when we do, we keep that Lake high moving into hurricane season, then our coasts take the brunt of it.”