In what some are calling one of the wettest wet seasons ever, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deputy commander for south Florida told local elected officials this morning the agency continues to work through water management challenges around the region.
Lt. Col. Jennifer Reynolds provided an update to members of the County Coalition for Responsible Management of Lake Okeechobee on the Corps’ water management activities in the wake of Hurricane Irma, which moved through the state in September. Reynolds says the storm caused a rapid rise in water levels in Lake Okeechobee and in water conservation areas west of the Miami and Fort Lauderdale metro areas.
“We have been using all tools available to us since the beginning of the summer to address the high water in the conservation areas in south Florida,” said Reynolds. “Irma has increased the challenge by dumping a lot of water in areas that were feeling impacts from heavy rains at the beginning of wet season. It also took Lake Okeechobee from a level that was in the middle of our preferred range to the highest stages we’ve seen in more than a decade.”
Following heavy rains in June, the Corps implemented deviations to allow more water to flow from Water Conservation Area 3A into Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve. In August, the Corps implemented a deviation to allow high stages in Water Conservation Area 2A to reduce some of the flows going into Water Conservation Area 3A.
“The high water levels in the conservation areas took away any possibility that we could send water from Lake Okeechobee south when it rose after Irma,” said Reynolds.
Before Irma, the stage at Lake Okeechobee was elevation 13.67 feet, well within the Corps’ preferred range of 12.5-15.5 feet. Rain from the hurricane took the water level to 17.2 feet, its highest stage since 2004. In mid-September, the Corps started releasing water from the lake to the Caloosahatchee River and St. Lucie Canal.
“We’ve been releasing as much water as we can from Lake Okeechobee since late September,” said Reynolds. “We’ve had to slow the rate of discharges at various times due to high tides and heavy precipitation. We will continue to monitor downstream conditions and adjust accordingly.”
From September 15 to October 29, more than 477 billion gallons of water has found its way into the lake from the watershed to its north and west. The Corps has released 170 billion gallons of water to the Caloosahatchee and 74 billion gallons to the St. Lucie.
The Corps resumed daily inspections of the Herbert Hoover Dike that surrounds the lake this week as precipitation from Tropical Storm Phillipe caused the stage to rise above 17.0 feet again. The Corps conducted five daily inspections on the southern half of the dike between Moore Haven and Port Mayaca. A weekly inspection was also conducted on the northern half of the dike. No issues of concern were identified.
“With the lake falling to elevation 16.99 feet today, we will scale back our inspection frequency on the south side of the dike to twice each week,” said Reynolds.
For more information on water level and flows data for Lake Okeechobee and south Florida, visit the Corps’ water management website at http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Missions/CivilWorks/WaterManagement.aspx.