An early arrival to the wet season set the stage for the rest of the year. As the rains increased, so did the water levels in Lake Okeechobee. Through it all, the Operations Division persevered despite an unforgettable summer that brought visits from the governor and thousands of demonstrators.
However, the water management activities at the lake overshadowed other significant accomplishments of the division, including acquisition of new survey boats and repairs at Canaveral Lock.
“2013 was a year full of challenges,” said Jim Jeffords, Operations Division chief. “Our biggest challenge was the historical rain event that occurred from April to July. The event tested all aspects of the district – our water managers, inspections of the dike, emergency operations, dam safety and corporate communications.”
Wet-season rains, which normally arrive in mid-May, came a month early. The April to July precipitation total in south Florida was the highest since 1932, causing Lake Okeechobee to jump from its dry-season low of 13.4 feet May 1 to 16.05 feet by August 10. The water management section began releasing water from the lake May 8, and with the water level rising, opened the gates to maximum capacity July 25.
“Our staff took a lot of criticism for the amount of water that was released from the lake,” said Jeffords. “We overcame those challenges by following our water control plan and the inspection schedule for the dike. All of these plans were developed by hard-working people throughout the district. We communicated what we were doing weekly through media calls. Although people didn’t necessarily like the results, they understood the reason we had to release water was for the continued safety of those communities closest to the lake.”
While water management activities may have garnered most of the headlines in 2013, the Operations Division experienced significant success in all of their branches and sections.
“We took delivery of a new survey boat, the Florida II,” said Jeffords. “We completed repairs on the wall of the Canaveral Lock, and we started a new project working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.”
Acquisition of survey boats allowed the division’s Surveying and Mapping Branch to have a successful year. With the addition of Florida II and boat SB-46, the branch now has a fleet of nine vessels.
“The new vessel and the state-of-the-art equipment allow us to work in rougher seas, and it cuts the travel time from Jacksonville to Miami in half,” said Jeffords. “We completed 223 surveys in FY 2013, which is a 25 percent increase over our numbers from three years ago.”
The Operations Division, through the South Florida Operations Office (SFOO), is responsible for the locks and recreation areas along the Okeechobee Waterway (OWW), which connects the Gulf of Mexico with the Atlantic Ocean through Lake Okeechobee. The SFOO also has responsibility for a lock at Port Canaveral.
“The repairs at Canaveral Lock removed a safety hazard,” said Jeffords. “We’ve been working to get funding for those repairs for some time.”
In addition to Canaveral Lock, SFOO also operates five locks along the OWW. Those locks and associated recreation areas draw millions of visitors each year.
“We had more than five million people visit our facilities in both 2012 and 2013,” said Jeffords. “We have one of the smallest recreation staffs in the Corps, but Jacksonville District is among the leaders across the nation in terms of total visitors.”
Other key accomplishments in the Operations Division include coordination of deployments by the Emergency Management Branch to support missions associated with Hurricane Sandy and Overseas Contingency Operations in Afghanistan. Additionally, the division continued to experience success with its Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) program, with missions flown at Eagle Bay in support of invasive species management and over the Herbert Hoover Dike as part of rehabilitation efforts.
“The Operations Division is the most diverse organization in the district,” said Jeffords. “It is truly an honor to be associated with this organization. They always amaze me with their drive and execution.”