Lake Okeechobee on the rise after recent tropical moisture, days of rain

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lake okeechobee
Lake Okeechobee. (Credit: WINK News)

Southwest Florida always keeps a close eye on Lake Okeechobee‘s water level.

If it gets too high, it could threaten the City of Clewiston with flooding, stress the lake’s ecosystems, and threaten the integrity of the embankment.

In the past, Clewiston residents have told WINK News that they fear a levee breach. Since then, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has completed a more than billion-dollar repair job of the Herbert Hoover Dike. The Dike is “a 143-mile earthen dam that surrounds Lake Okeechobee, the heart of the Kissimmee-Okeechobee-Everglades system.” 

When the lake level gets too high, water releases may be necessary to lower it. Many fear the releases contribute to blue-green algae outbreaks along the Caloosahatchee and even red tide in the Gulf of Mexico.

Normally, the dry season allows the water level to lower, but this year, we had an abnormally wet dry season. The Army Corps began lowering Lake O in February through water releases.

Lake Okeechobee
Lake Okeechobee. CREDIT: WINK News

It reached what will presumably be the low point for the year, 12.63 feet, on June 9. Five days later, on June 14, it is at 13.2 feet, about half a foot higher and on the rise.

In addition to direct rainfall, water runoff is a big concern, according to Col. James Booth, District Commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District.

“Lake Kissimmee is not releasing any water, but coming down from the system and the Kissimmee River, we’re seeing somewhere around 600 cubic feet per second coming into Lake Okeechobee from the Kissimmee,” stated Booth.

There are no releases coming out of Lake O to the Caloosahatchee, but again, runoff is an issue.

“Massive amounts of flow coming out of the (Franklin Lock), at basically our lowest structure down on the Caloosahatchee somewhere around 13 or 14,000 cubic feet per second,” explained Booth. “And that’s all due to local runoff coming into the system and basically flowing out towards the Caloosahatchee estuary.”

Franklin lock park
Credit: WINK News.

To paint a clearer picture for you, 13,000 cubic feet per second is nearly 6 million gallons per minute.

As for future releases, Booth added, “On the Caloosahatchee side, we would target no more than 2000 cubic feet per second. If the Caloosahatchee watershed is generating anything above that 2,000, we would not generate any releases out of Lake Okeechobee.”

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