DEP Hosts Lake Okeechobee Resotration Plan Development Meeting

On February 19, 2014,  the Florida Department of Environmental Protection again engaged localstakeholders—government representatives, scientists, environmentalists, agricultural operatorsand others— ondevelopment of the restoration plan for Lake Okeechobee. This meeting continued an intensified program of monthly gatherings to establish the specific pollutant load reductions and action strategies essential to improving lake water quality.

This month’s meeting focused on discussions of the revised load allocation model used to identify total phosphorus reduction targets. Phosphorus reductions from projects implemented in the watershed since 2009 and those expected to be completed during the first five years of basin management action plan implementation were presented. Finally, the draft BMAP monitoring plan for tracking project progress and measuring water quality success was reviewed.

“Getting stakeholders together regularly is the key to local action and successful restoration,” said Tom Frick, Director of the Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration. “These meetings tackle complicated technical issues that must be resolved in order to move forward, but they also provide a forum for all stakeholders to voice their concerns and offer creative solutions for restoring Lake Okeechobee.”

At 730 square miles, Lake Okeechobee is the largest lake in the southeastern United States and drains more than 3.5 million acres (5,500 square miles) spanning 10 Florida counties. It is in the heart of the greater Everglades ecosystem that stretches from the Kissimmee River to Florida Bay. With an average depth of only 9 feet, it is vulnerable both to pollution from surrounding land uses and flooding.

Lake Okeechobee is itself a remarkable resource, but it is also a source of water for the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers and estuaries. Water releases from the lake to control flooding can deliver too much fresh water and pollutants downstream. Therefore, completion and implementation of the Lake Okeechobee Watershed BMAP will also help restore the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie watersheds, where restoration programs — adopted by the Department in November 2012 and June 2013, respectively — are already underway.

Collectively, the actions of the Department, the South Florida Water Management District, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the hundreds of stakeholders invested in these watersheds will fulfill the objectives of the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program set by the Florida Legislature in 2007.

For more about Lake Okeechobee, visit www.dep.state.fl.us/water/watersheds/bmap.htm and www.sfwmd.gov/okeechobee.

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