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US Army Corps of Engineers
Jacksonville District

Lake OkeechobeePhoto of Lake Okeechobee by SFWMD used with permission

Lake Okeechobee is a large, shallow, eutrophic lake located in central south Florida. The natural shoreline, inflow, and outflow of the lake was altered by the construction of the Herbert Hoover Dike and associated water control structures and watershed drainage features, and nutrient inputs have caused excessive cultural eutrophication over many decades. As a result, water levels within the lake fluctuate with increased frequency and amplitude, and vast quantities of nutrient-laden sediments have accumulated in deeper areas which are easily resuspended by even moderate winds. This has caused Lake Okeechobee to become increasingly turbid and has served to exacerbate water-column nutrient concentrations upon their release from the sediment. Further, excessive nutrients and fluctuations in water levels favor invasive species, displacing large areas of marsh with non-native or native nuisance vegetation, lowering habitat quality and increasing management costs. These three issues, water quality, water levels, and exotic species are considered the primary threats to lake ecology. (Photo of Lake Okeechobee by SFWMD used with permission)

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 Map showing long view and detail view of Lake Okeechobee. This includes the Caloosahatchee River Estuary, the St. Lucie Estuary and Southern Indian River Lagoon, and the Loxahatchee River Estuary

Graphic. Fluctuating lake levels within an optimal range maintains SAV, emergent vegetation, and woody shoreline vegetation, which allows birds and fish to flourish. However, with reduced water storage, lake levels too often are above or below this range. Low levels caused by drought lead to release of nutrients from sediments and loss of shoreline vegetation, often do to fire. Large storms can cause high water levels, stressing vegetation. Storms also increase nutrients from both runoff and sediment resuspension. Resulting low light conditions stress SAV, and low oxygen from algai blooms result in fish kills.

 

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