Officials monitor Lake O, state waterways in anticipation of Dorian

For the past week, South Florida Water Management District officials on the east coast have been monitoring Lake Okeechobee’s water level and lowered nearby canals in anticipation of rain brought by Hurricane Dorian.

We visited the SFWMD control room near West Palm Beach to see how decisions are made for the lake before, during and after a major storm.

Every hour of every day, the water management district keeps its eyes on Lake O and the state’s waterways from the control center. Just as roads connect Florida’s coasts, our water has a highway system of its own.

“There’s about 2,000 miles of canals that we control,” said John Mitnik, chief district engineer at the control center. “Roughly 70 pump stations and [600] or 700 water control structures that are all managed from this building right here.”

And decisions need to be made when a storm like Hurricane Dorian approaches our state.

“That drop of water that will rain on Disney World will come down through the system and eventually make it all the way down to Florida Bay through the Everglades,” Mitnik said.

When the rain comes down, the officials in the control room act. They decide how to control water levels across South Florida.

“How much it’s going to rain in that part of the county, not only how much, but what time of day,” Mitnik said. “Is it the morning, the afternoon, the evening? That will then give our water managers the information that they need in order to make the decisions on how to operate the system.”

The good news is that Dorian did not drop nearly the expected amount of rain on South Florida.

“In Collier County, we’ve already returned that system to its normal operations from where we had it at a pre-storm situation and drew a lot of those levels down,” Mitnik said. “Now, throughout the day, we’re bringing those levels back up again more to normal operations because we don’t see anymore heavy rains coming over to that part of the system.”

The SFWMD expects to lift its lockdown this evening but will remain in emergency activation until it gets the all clear, which could be another several days.

Reporter:Stephanie Byrne
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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