The Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual – Near-term Relief for the Coastal Estuaries

By Mayor Kevin Ruane

The relationship between water quality and Florida’s economy has never been more apparent than it is today. The lost summers during the flood cycle of 2013-2018 were beyond challenging for the coastal communities along the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers. Countless images on social media of guacamole-like algae in our rivers and canals and piles of dead marine life scattered along beaches do not begin to capture the impacts poor water quality is having on our communities.

On Sanibel Island, we removed more than 850,000 pounds of dead marine life from our beaches. Our Chamber of Commerce reported lost revenue from July–December of more than $46.8 million, with lodging cancellation rates at 78%. Cape Coral endured months of toxic blue-green algae blooms that clogged up canals and incited public health concerns. The most common question is: How could our state and federal government allow so much water from Lake Okeechobee to be discharged to our estuaries? The response I received too often from water managers is: This is how the system was designed and nothing can be done until projects outlined in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) are completed.

That answer is no longer acceptable! Our communities cannot wait another 20+ years. Thankfully, there is an opportunity for near-term relief to the plight of our estuaries. The U.S. Army Corps conducted a series of public meetings to gather input on a new Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS), now referred to as the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM). LOSOM will provide guidance for managing lake levels for multiple purposes, including protection of the lake’s ecology, water supply for agricultural, urban and environmental uses, and discharges to the estuaries.

Lake Okeechobee discharges have the single greatest impact on water quality in our estuaries during wet periods. Changes to the way the lake is managed could provide relief to our communities. The reality is, there is no single CERP project that will provide total relief from the harmful discharges. A lake schedule that maintains healthy water levels for the Lake and provides beneficial water releases to the Caloosahatchee and other natural systems could reduce the water that must be discharged during the wet season. What we cannot support are schedules that permanently damage the Lake’s ecology and eliminate beneficial flows to the estuaries when conditions are dry. If we fall back into a flood cycle like 2013-2018, these could allow for another round of damaging releases to the estuaries.

Lastly, the LOSOM is scheduled to be completed in 2022, but the health of our communities cannot wait until then! The process must be accelerated and should not be held back by the completion timeline of the Herbert Hoover Dike repairs. The new schedule must be equitable for all affected communities and stakeholders.


Kevin Ruane is the Mayor of the City of Sanibel, President of the Florida League of Mayors, and a local business owner. Kevin Ruane is running for Lee County Commission, District 1. Mayor Ruane was the recipient of the prestigious Everglades Coalition James D. Webb public service award in 2016. In 2017, 2019 and 2020 he was awarded the Florida League of Cities Home Rule Hero award for his efforts on water quality and home rule advocacy.

Political advertisement paid for and approved by Kevin Ruane, Rep. for Lee Co. Commission, Dist. 1

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