High Levels at Lake Okeechobee Leave South Florida With A Water Storage Challenge
South Florida was largely spared from the flooding and extra rain brought by the arrival of Tropical Storm Colin. Yet, as storm season rolls in, Lake Okeechobee’s levels – and subsequently connected waterways – are high. Where is all of that water going?
"Ultimately, the water can only go so many places,” says John Campbell, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps is in charge of managing the largest lake in Florida, Lake Okeechobee, and a major part of flood prevention in the state.
At the St. Lucie Lock and Dam, the Corps is moving 1.1 billion gallons of water per day out of the lake through the St. Lucie Canal.
“When we start wet season elevated, like we are today, it just takes away the storage that we have for any heavy rain event like we’ve gotten in the past couple days,” Campbell said.
The lake is now about 14.5 feet high, instead of closer to 12.5 feet, which the Corps had been hoping for.
“We are coming off a dry season that I think when we do all the numbers is going to come pretty close to an average wet season," Campbell said. "So it’s like having back-to-back wet seasons without a dry season in between.”
The Corps says it will continue to pump water out of the lake and into nearby rivers for now. This has the potential to create toxic algae blooms when there are stagnant pockets of water or when water salinity becomes unbalanced.
Draining the lake eases pressure on the nearly 80-year-old Hoover Dike, and attempts to maximize space for summer rainfall.