FORT MYERS, Fla. Water in Lake Okeechobee is at its highest level since 2005, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Monday.
The Corps is releasing water into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers and performing weekly inspections on the southern half of the Herbert Hoover Dike that surrounds the lake, Corps spokesman John Campbell said. Some 4.7 billion gallons of water a day are flowing into the Caloosahatchee.
“We continue to release as much water as we can to the Caloosahatchee River and the St. Lucie Canal while not releasing so much that we would cause any flooding downstream,” Campbell said.
The releases have been blamed for brown, murky water and toxic algae blooms along the rivers. The Caloosahatchee estuary isn’t as healthy as it was before lake discharges began in earnest 18 months ago, Captains for Clean Water founder Daniel Andrews said.
“It highlights the importance of moving forward with Everglades restoration projects so we won’t have to deal with this in the future,” Andrews said. “There’s nothing that can be done immediately that’s going to provide any significant relief for any of this.”
The lake stage is 16.44 feet, higher than the 16.4 feet it hit in February 2016 and the highest since it spiked to 17.12 feet in the 2015 aftermath of Hurricane Wilma.
If the lake level rises to 16.5 feet, the Corps will increase its dike inspections to twice weekly, Campbell said. Daily inspections would be triggered if the lake hits 17 feet.
Three inspections since the passage of Hurricane Irma have not revealed any problems with the dike, parts of which date to the 1930s.