Florida Gov. Rick Scott got an update from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials in Clewiston, Monday about the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee. Scott’s visit came just a day after water levels in the lake surpassed 17 ft.
The Army Corps began doing daily inspections around the southern half of the dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee over the weekend as water levels surpassed that 17 ft. mark. On Monday, water levels measured 17.16 feet. That is the highest the lake has been since Hurricane Wilma hit the state in 2005. The highest recorded lake level of 18.77 feet occurred in 1947.
Army Corps spokesman John Campbell said that while some weak spots around the dike have been identified and addressed, recent inspections have not found signs that the structural integrity of the dike has been compromised.
“We have identified a couple spots where some erosion took place; one on the north side of Lake Okeechobee,” said Campbell. “And we have brought in some (fill) material there. I liken it more to shingles blowing off of a house. There’s nothing wrong with the stability of the structure, however, it’s not something you want to leave exposed.”
Campbell says the Army Corps would not expect to be potentially dealing with any structural threats to the dike unless water levels continue to climb.
““We haven’t seen performance issues until the lake gets a little higher. In the past, historically, like 17 and a half or 18 feet is where we’ve seen issues with the dike like movement of materials, significant erosion that threatens the integrity of the structure.”
The Army Corps resumed water releases out of the lake into the St. Lucie River on Sept. 15 and into the Caloosahatchee River on Sept. 19, to help alleviate rising water levels.
“We are trying to release as much water as we can with the caveat that we don’t want to release so much that we’re causing any problems downstream of any of our structures,” said Campbell. However, Campbell notes that over the past week, the Army Corps has reduced water releases to the east, due to tidal activity in the St. Lucie estuary. Earlier this year, Gov. Scott and the Trump administration worked with the legislature to commit $50 million to speed up the pace of critical repairs to the aging Herbert Hoover Dike.