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Stop the 'pulse' releases

Island Reporter editorial
October 16, 2008

When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed its second of two planned “pulse releases” from Lake Okeechobee last weekend, their actions managed to draw severe criticism from several local groups who suggested that “trickle releases” were more appropriate.

What’s the difference?

Periodically, the water level at Lake Okeechobee may reach capacity. In an attempt to maintain the lake at optimal levels, a release of excess water may be called for.

During a “pulse release,” up to 2,800 cubic feet of water per second is released into the Caloosahatchee River, water which flows southwest right into Sanibel’s delicate marine eco-system. During a “trickle release,” the locks at the lake are opened only slightly, but for a longer duration, allowing a gradual release of the nutrient-rich water from Lake Okeechobee to be absorbed into our system of rivers, canals and estuaries.

As of Tuesday morning (Oct. 14), the lake’s water level was at 14.98 feet.

Michael Valiquette, chairman of the Fort Myers-based group People United to Restore Rivers and Estuaries (PURRE), has been critical of “pulse releases.” He urged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reconsider its plan and do a “trickle release” instead. Despite his plea, two “pulse releases” were executed as planned.

“That’s too much water to release all at once, even if it’s not polluted,” Valiquette states. “We’re definitely opposed to ‘pulse releases,’ but they [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] isn’t.”

According to the City of Sanibel’s Web site,
“pulse releases” from Lake Okeechobee in 2004 and 2005 had many devastating effects in the region. These include severe degradation of seagrasses, including severe to moderate damage to over 10,000 acres of seagrass beds near the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River. That includes habitat that has been federally designated as critical to the endangered West Indian Manatee and important to threatened loggerhead sea turtles and numerous fisheries including pink shrimp, sea trout, blue crab and grouper.

“Pulse releases” are also blamed for the killing of oyster beds, commercial clam beds and other filter-feeding organisms. The results are the degradation of federal waters and coastal resources, including designated wilderness areas of the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, as well as negative impacts to numerous local industries including tourism, marine trades, boating, commercial and recreational fisheries and fishing guides.

“If it were up to me, I’d open up the locks [at Lake Okeechobee] 24/7, 365 days per year... but I’d never do a ‘pulse release,’” Valiquette added.

We aren’t sure we would go that far, but clearly, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should not be conducting “pulse releases” into the Caloosahatchee. They must listen to not only scientific experts and environmental activists, but to the residents of the Sunshine State.

PURRE encourages people to submit their hand-written letters seeking further investigation into impact of “pulse releases” from Lake Okeechobee to the following:

• Office of Governor Charlie Crist, State of Florida, The Capitol, 400 S. Monroe Street, Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001

• U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, South Florida Operations Office, 525 Ridgelawn Road, Clewiston, FL 33440-5399

• Florida Department of Environmental Protection, 3900 Commonwealth Boulevard, M.S. 49, Tallahassee, FL 32399

“Hand-written letters get read first, then regular mail, and then e-mail,” said Valiquette, who also noted that “form letters” send out in multiples are immediately discarded.

It may take longer to hand-write a letter, but isn’t that time well worth it... considering the consequences of not doing so?



think about this...

"We must build a peace in South Florida - a peace between the people and their place, between the natural environment and man-made settlement, between the works of man and the life of mankind itself. "
~ Florida Gov. Reubin Askew ~