Clewiston, Fla. – Jan.25, 2023 --The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District celebrated the substantial completion of construction for the Herbert Hoover Restoration Project around Lake Okeechobee.
The Herbert Hoover Dike is a 143-mile earthen dam that surrounds Lake Okeechobee, at the heart of the Kissimmee-Okeechobee-Everglades System. 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 rehabilitation project since 2005.
“Safety is our number one priority. The goal of this project is to protect human life while reducing the risks of impact to the way of life, the economy, and the environment of the communities around the lake,” said Col. James Booth, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District Commander. “This construction project has been a monumental undertaking that started in 2005. Corps team members and construction contractors, as well as the supporting staff from Federal, Tribal and State agencies, have dedicated a significant part of their careers to this project, and I thank them for their efforts.”
Booth told the crowd that the ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrates the improved resiliency of the dike and a safer future for the surrounding communities.
“They brought a high-priority risk-reduction project to completion three years ahead of the target date of 2025, under an aggressive schedule,” said Booth.
Booth said the Herbert Hoover Dike has never been in better condition than it is now and this is great news for lakeside communities. The Brighton Reservation and the cities of Clewiston, South Bay, Belle Grade, Pahokee, Okeechobee and Moore Haven are safer and more protected than they have ever been. He added these communities are why the dike was restored.
Because of our collective efforts, Herbert Hoover Dike is now better suited to protect lakeside communities for many years to come, " said Booth. Thank you for your support over the years. We all have much to celebrate.”
In the late 1920s, flooding from hurricanes killed thousands of people living in communities around the lake. As a result, Congress authorized the Corps to construct a series of levees. In the 1930s, the Corps built 68 miles of levee on the south shore of the lake, and an additional 16 miles of levee near the city of Okeechobee on the North. Following another hurricane in 1947 that left much of South Florida under water for weeks, Congress authorized a project that raised and widened the existing levees. Congress also authorized the Corps to build an additional 59 miles of levee, bringing the dike to the 143-mile footprint that it has today.
In 1960, the series of levees was renamed the Herbert Hoover Dike. The dike was built with gravel, rock, limestone, sand and shell. These natural materials allow water to seep through the embankment. As the water levels in the lake increase, the seepage can lead to internal erosion. Without intervention, the movement of material within the dike could cause the dike to fail, putting thousands of people in harm’s way.
“Today we celebrate the timely completion of the Herbert Hoover Dike rehabilitation project, significantly increasing protection for the people of this region for decades to come. This was a massive project and success would not have been achieved without the partnerships of so many in this area,” said Michael L. Connor, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. “While we mark this monumental achievement, we know much work remains to be done for Everglades restoration and building resilience in South Florida. Fortunately, the Biden administration has committed over $1 billion to South Florida Ecosystem Restoration from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and made record budget requests to support ongoing progress for the region and deliver on our commitments.”
In the 1990s and early 2000s, the Corps observed issues at the dike during high water events in Lake Okeechobee. These issues included movement of dike material, such as sloughing, the development of sinkholes, and other erosion. The Corps dealt with issues immediately to keep the dike from failing, and a series of studies was undertaken on various sections of the dike. Based on the results of those studies, the Corps began rehabilitation of the dike. A Dam Safety Modification Study was completed in 2016 that identified all remaining fixes needed to reduce risks around Herbert Hoover Dike.
“The completion of the Herbert Hoover Dike is welcome news for the State of Florida,” said South Florida Water Management District Chairman Chauncey Goss. “Today’s ribbon cutting to celebrate the completion of the Herbert Hoover Dike rehabilitation marks an important day in our history as Florida continues to be at the forefront of our nation’s ecosystem restoration, flood protection and resiliency efforts. We appreciate our partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - Jacksonville District for working to harden the region’s infrastructure to benefit the communities surrounding Lake Okeechobee and South Florida’s water resources.”
One of the major components of the rehabilitation was the construction of, 56.2 miles of seepage barrier (known as a partial penetrating cutoff wall), with 52.1 miles between Port Mayaca to west of Moore Haven on the south side of the lake and 4.1 miles in the Lakeport area.
The Corps replaced 28 water control structures through Herbert Hoover Dike. These structures (also known as “culverts”) posed a failure risk due to loss of embankment material into and along them. They also removed or filled in four additional water control structures. These culverts were no longer needed.
The final piece of the rehabilitation including armoring embankments adjacent to Structure S-71, Structure S-72, and the Harney Pond Canal State Road 78 Bridge. Placement of armoring at these locations reduces the risk of dike failure due to storm surge from a tropical system or from over-washing or over-topping events.
“This day marks a long history of the end of significant risk, change and achievement,” said Adam Gelber, Director of the Department of the Interior’s Office of Everglades Restoration Initiatives. “It is a day to honor those who lost their lives during previous flooding events, to celebrate the clear and continued commitment of the federal government in protecting Floridians and to the Jacksonville District for the leadership in developing the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual.”
The Corps estimates the rehabilitation effort, which is completing three years ahead of schedule, will be under the estimated $1.8 billion. The Corps anticipates completion of the final 130 feet of risk reduction measures in early 2023. The HHD project is fully funded to completion with the State of Florida's $100 million contribution and inclusion in the Supplemental Long-Term Disaster Recovery Investment Plan.
“Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, who was the co-chairman and co-founder of the Everglades Caucus, remains committed, along with national and local officials, to ensuring that projects like the HHD are adequately funded and completed” said Annette Hernandez, Director of Outreach for Representative Mario Diaz-Balart.
The credit for this unprecedented success rightly belongs to the countless hard-working men and women in the Army Corps of Engineers and the federal, tribal, state, and local leaders, as well as the numerous nonprofit organizations that provided guidance, insight, and dialogue, all in the name of seeing Central and South Florida thrive and flourish.
“It’s always rewarding when you can work with engaged, knowledgeable and constructive leaders,” said Mr. Michael Connor, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works.
The public can obtain news, updates and information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District on the district’s website at www.saj.usace.army.mil, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/JacksonvilleDistrict, Twitter at www.twitter.com/JaxStrong, and Instagram at www.instagram.com/jacksonvilledistrict.