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Army Corp predicts harsher wet season, starts Lake O releases

JACKSONVILLE, Fla.- On Friday, water releases will increase from Lake Okeechobee.

That’s because the lake is at the same level it was in January 2013, when a wetter than normal dry season caused engineers to release more water. Those releases brought brown and murky water to Southwest Florida’s beaches.

Enough water will flow from Lake O, every second, to fill around 293 Olympic-sized swimming pools every day. For now, the new increase is only going to the East Coast, through the St. Lucie Estuary.

Lake Okeechobee currently stands at 15.03 feet. The Army Corp of Engineers says that’s a startling number for the dry season.

“There’s a 50 percent chance we’ll remain above 13 feet come June 1st, and that will put us in awfully bad position come wet season,” said  Lt. Col. Thomas Greco.

Engineers say they need to get that number below 12.5 feet, because they’re predicting a wetter than normal dry season.

“The forecasts show, just between the months of January and February, March, precipitation will be above normal,” said Greco.

The same thing happened in January 2013, but engineers weren’t prepared. Large releases that summer brought large amounts of brown and murky water to local beaches.

“Just for context, water can come into the lake six times faster than it can be released,” said Rae Ann Wessel, Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation.

Wessel says now is the time to release, because oysters and seagrass aren’t spawning. She also added that the St. Lucie Estuary hasn’t gotten releases for at least a year.

Just last month, more water began releasing into the Caloosahatchee. We asked the Corp if numbers could go up again.

“If conditions change, we’ll adjust accordingly,” said Wessel.

WINK News Chief Meteorologist Jim Farrell says newer weather models show we won’t be getting any more rain than normal.

However, the Army Corp says they still need to be proactive, and empty some of the lake.

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