Statement from Martin County Office of Tourism regarding the discharges
Strong El Niño conditions have impacted all of South Florida during the start of 2016. January rainfall in our area was 487% above normal. Lake Okeechobee now stands at its highest level since 2005. This increased lake level due to the extreme rain has resulted in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) releasing lake water that is impacting both the St. Lucie River locally and the Caloosahatchee River on the west coast. The additional water from the lake, combined with basin runoff, has drastically increased the amount of freshwater in the St. Lucie River leading to the Atlantic Ocean.
These large, freshwater releases can have a serious and detrimental impact on the natural ecosystem of the St. Lucie Lagoon system and Estuary. This delicate system becomes impaired as freshwater pours through the canals from Lake Okeechobee into the Estuary, resulting in reduced salinity, poor water quality, and negative impacts on aquatic life.
Yesterday, the Martin County Board of County Commissioners listened to extensive public comment regarding concerns about the Lake Okeechobee discharges, and directed staff to take the following action:
Investigate the best and most practical short-term goals to reduce or eliminate high-volume discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie Estuary and report back at the next Board meeting.
a. Short-term solutions include, but are not limited to:
i. Request that the Governor declare a State of Emergency for the St. Lucie Estuary to protect the local economy and ecosystem, including numerous endangered species located in the Estuary that may be harmed by the discharges from Lake Okeechobee.
(This would be great)
ii. Request that the State release funds to the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) for temporary pumping and redirection of water to maximum capacity on SFWMD designated lands, including but not limited to the Holey Land, Rotenberger tracts, and Water Conservation Areas.
(I’m not sure this is possible because they are already flooded out)
iii. Request the State and Federal Government provide economic assistance to the businesses adversely impacted by the discharges.
iv. Support the passage of HB 589/SB 1168 “Legacy Florida,” providing dedicated funding for Everglades restoration and funding in the House and Senate to provide short- and long-term storage and water quality treatment options.
b. Long-term solutions include, but are not limited to:
i. Request that the Legislature use Amendment 1 funds for design of 507,000 acre-feet of additional storage, treatment, and conveyance south of Lake Okeechobee, and for the associated purchase of identified land for said storage to redirect water that would otherwise be discharged into the estuaries, away from the estuaries, as recommended in the 2015 Independent Technical Review by the University of Florida Water Institute titled “Options to Reduce High Volume Freshwater Flows to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Estuaries and Move More Water from Lake Okeechobee to the Southern Everglades.”
ii. Completion of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.
What do you tell your customers regarding the discharges?
We are a community that is dependent upon our natural resources and when situations such as this occur, residents rally around this important cause.
As a visitor you are more than welcome to get involved and help with advocacy efforts – please see below for more information on “Speak Up for the St. Lucie.”
We have 93,000 acres of parks are recreation lands that can be explored.
Our nature centers, museums, and other attractions are open for business – please see attached list of attractions.
If there are no signs posted, the water has been deemed safe at that time and you can enjoy various water activities.
What about safety?
Recreational Water Quality Criteria reflect the latest scientific knowledge, public comments, and external peer review. The criteria are designed to protect the public from exposure to harmful levels of pathogens while participating in water-contact activities such as swimming, wading, and surfing in all waters designated for such recreational uses. In the last few years the acceptable levels have been lowered in an effort to protect citizens. In 2012 the acceptable level was 110, it was then lowered to 104, and this year the Recreational Water Quality Criteria has been reduced to 71.
Through the Healthy Beaches Monitoring program, the Martin County Health Department, Division of Environmental Health conducts beach and river water sampling in eight locations throughout the county every other week.
In addition, the Martin County Health Department conducts weekly St. Lucie River sampling at four sites. These sites are sampled as a special monitoring project and the reports may be found here.
What can we expect?
Because of the strong El Niño conditions, additional rain is forecast and, with the continued rise of Lake Okeechobee, the releases from the lake will continue for the foreseeable future.
Martin County staff is in daily contact with the Corps and SFWMD regarding the releases. They continue to look for options that could relieve some of the pressure put on the St. Lucie River and Estuary.
How long will it last?
That depends on the current and projected weather conditions, as well as conditions in the tributaries that flow into Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie River, and the availability of additional water storage. Because of the higher than normal rainfall through the beginning of the rainy season system-wide, water releases from Lake Okeechobee will likely continue. If the lake releases are stopped, conditions could improve in a relatively short period of time.
What can I do to help and how do I stay informed?
YOU CAN “SPEAK UP”- Join, follow and engage with us via the “Speak Up for the St Lucie” Facebook page here. On this page you will find the most up-to-date information on conditions impacting the St. Lucie River and Estuary.
Voice your support for projects that will help lessen future impacts to our estuary.
Tourism is a vital industry in Martin County and we urge you to stand with us in helping support our local tourism businesses.
We are actively promoting the many areas of our county that are open for business, from the beaches to the parks to our many attractions and festivals taking place during Martin Arts month.
We ask for your help in making sure our visitors have a memorable experience, and we ask for your help in doing all you can to help promote our wonderful area and to not deter potential visitors from enjoying all Martin County has to offer.
Please send any comments, suggestions, or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. We thank you for your continued support and input as we work together to promote our beautiful area.