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Lake Okeechobee Swells With So Much Rain

Creative Commons via Flickr
Dale (https://flic.kr/p/fML4tK)
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had been releasing water from Lake Okeechobee at a higher rate than usual.

It will come as no surprise to anyone with a window that it has been raining a lot more than usual this time of year in South Florida. That has a lot to do with El Nino, which has affected weather patterns across the globe.

The result is lots of rainwater in Lake Okeechobee,  where water levels have been higher than usual. In response, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been draining a larger than normal volume of water from the lake, where the water level usually falls naturally during the dry season, which runs November through May.

The reason this matters is twofold.

One is that the 143-mile Herbert Hoover dike surrounding the lake is ranked as one of the most at risk for failure.

“The dike dates back, portions of it date back to the 1920s and 30s,” says John Campbell with the Army Corps. “We’re in the middle of a massive rehabilitation of that dike right now. But we do try to keep the lake a little lower to try to relieve pressure on it so that it doesn’t catastrophically fail and put citizens in danger.”

He says at this time, there is no immediate danger.

Another consideration with these higher water levels, though, is the environmental impact of the extra water.

As the lake is drained, the fresh water mixes with the saltier surrounding waters, which could impact things like fishing and algae blooms. Additionally, the water levels could drown critical marshes where wading birds nest this time of year.

“We’re doing our best to position ourselves where we can react appropriately for whatever Mother Nature has in store for us,” says Campbell.

The lake fills up quicker than the Army Corps can drain it,  so they’re positioning levels in order to be prepared if there is a sudden heavy rainfall.

For now, the lake is holding steady at a reasonable level.