Dear Secretary Darcy:
In recent months, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers staff and your federal counterparts have worked well with my staff and our partners in the South Florida Water Management District to make significant progress toward our shared goals of moving water south to restore the Everglades and successfully reducing impacts to our Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers and estuaries. I thank you for your commitment to these issues and I am hopeful you will continue to demonstrate a willingness to collaborate with us on matters of mutual importance.
As you are aware, Florida's wet season is upon us and it is time to carefully consider the needs of the South Florida region and how Lake Okeechobee operations can impact it. Most of South Florida is at or above the historical average rainfall since January 2014. As such, the state and the residents of the counties that lie along the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers and estuaries are extremely fearful of a recurrence of the damaging freshwater discharges observed last year. While I greatly appreciate your commitment to working with us and the South Florida Water Management District in looking for any and all opportunities to move water south through the existing infrastructure, I ask that you employ all of the flexibilities that currently exist under the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule to curb any further impact to these natural treasures and South Florida's economy while long-term solutions are in development.
In addition, I understand the Corps is presently conducting a comprehensive assessment of the Herbert Hoover Dike, known as the Dam Safety Modification Study, to develop alternatives for rehabilitation of the dike with the ultimate goal being a reduction in the risk of a failure. Addressing the risks associated with the integrity of the dike is critical and will allow for flexibility in Lake Okeechobee operations. As you know, even an inch or two of water translates into billions of gallons, which could mean a substantial difference between short-term and long-term impacts from these freshwater releases.
I look forward to reviewing the risk assessment associated with this study and I encourage the Corps to update operational procedures as study findings are brought to light, rather than delay until all resulting repairs and rehabilitation projects are concluded. Area residents and our fragile coastal estuaries deserve every opportunity to mitigate likely impacts.
Your willingness to consider these requests is greatly appreciated. The residents of South Florida and I stand ready and willing to work proactively with you now to address the immediate and near-term needs of the region.
Herschel T. Vinyard Jr.