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Brian Mast Slams Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual Delays

This week, U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., called out the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), for its eleventh-hour roadblock for the new Lake Okeechobee regulation schedule.

The Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM) was on track to be implemented by the summer of 2023, but NMFS has ordered a formal biological consultation of the schedule’s impact on the ecosystems in Florida’s west coast estuaries, likely delaying implementation by six months or more.

“This is a late flag on the play that could cost the Treasure Coast a major win in our push for clean water,” said Mast. “NMFS’s concerns are valid – since I’ve been sworn into Congress, I’ve been pushing to address the negative impacts disgusting Lake Okeechobee water has on coastal ecosystems. The problem is that NMFS has had literally years to share these concerns, but sat quiet through meeting after meeting of the Project Delivery Team.

“Now, our community is going to have to suffer through another rainy season of toxic crap being sent into our water while they conduct this study,” Mast continued. “If they’re concerned that these discharges are bad for the estuaries – which we know they are – then their goal should be to get LOSOM in place as soon as possible. It will be a huge improvement over the status quo.”

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In a letter to Assistant Administrator for Fisheries Janet Coit, Mast expressed serious concerns about NMFS’s last-minute intrusion into the process, after years of minimal participation in meetings of the Project Delivery Team (PDT) that was responsible for developing LOSOM.

With toxic algal blooms already documented at the Port Mayaca lock and dam in February, delaying LOSOM through another wet season could spell disaster for the east and west coasts this summer. The delay comes at the end of a three-year long development process as a result of legislation passed by Mast in 2018 to change the way the U.S. Army Corps manages Lake Okeechobee for the next decade or more. Mast’s office noted the congressman has fought throughout the process for a plan that sends more water south to the Everglades in the dry season in an effort to prevent toxic discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the east and west coasts.

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