A billion-dollar repair job is underway on a structure built to keep catastrophic flooding at bay in Florida, and that could one day mean less high-volume water releases from Lake Okeechobee.
The work on the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee began more than a decade ago. The dike is vital to protecting several nearby communities from flooding.
Lake Okeechobee spans 730 square miles, and the Herbert Hoover Dike surrounds nearly the entire lake as a flood control measure. It’s been undergoing a massive repair project since 2007.
A portion of the dam is getting a facelift by digging deep. Crews are injecting a slurry made out of mostly cement about 55 to 75 feet deep into the dike. When it combines with the soil, it creates what’s called a cutoff wall, which strengthens the dam.
“That cutoff wall that’s going below the ground that you don’t see is slowing down that seepage force that can carry away material,” said Almur Whiting, the dam safety project manager for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District.
Seepage and piping are two things the Army Corps doesn’t want to see.
“Seepage is just water flowing through,” Whiting said. “As the pressure pushes more water, it actually has the force to actually move material, and that’s what is called piping. It pipes the material away, and as that material leaves, the dike gets weaker and weaker.”
What happens on the edge of Lake Okeechobee is just as important as what goes on within it, managing the water that helps or hinders humans, wildlife and the environment.
“Sometimes what’s best for an area of Florida or best for a group of people or cause, it can actually immediately impact in the negative someone else, somewhere else,” said Savannah Lacy, a water manager with the Army Corps.
The rehabilitation project is expected to be complete in 2022.