Lake Okeechobee water levels remain high, releases planned

A lot of water from Lake Okeechobee is coming our way. The Army Corps of Engineers said Friday they’ll start releasing water from the lake in a matter of days.

The water level right now in Lake O is over 16 feet.

Col. Andrew Kelly with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said releases from the lake will resume on Tuesday or Wednesday and will head both east and west down the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers.

He will give more precise details just before the releases begin.

The corps will likely release 4,000 cubic feet per second (CFS) to the west and 1,800 to the east. That’s enough water to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool every 22 seconds.

The big concern is the rate that the lake level is rising – about a foot-and-a-half a month, and they want to slow it down. Kelly said the planned release rate will take the lake’s level down about half a foot.

The hope is to stop the releases within three to four weeks, but it will depend on the weather and if we get another storm.

The completion of the Herbert Hoover Dike repairs is still a couple of years out, which makes balancing the lake’s water level even more delicate.

Lake O requires a fragile balance of making sure the water doesn’t get too high or too low, and the Herbert Hoover Dike is a key player in that management.

Clewiston Mayor Mali Gardner spoke of concerns for her community. “I do often feel that many times, you know, Lake Okeechobee is always, I don’t want to say the word ‘attacked,’ but that’s what it feels like at times.”

Gardner has seen the ups and downs of the lake – literally. “Sometimes there’s some months that we can breathe a little easier.”

But with the lake’s water level at 16.02, she eagerly awaits repairs of the dike and the completion of water storage projects around it.

“What this will do is it will strengthen and harden the Herbert Hoover Dike, and then Lake Okeechobee can go back into holding more water than it’s doing right now,” Gardner explained. “If there were a hurricane or storm coming our way, that would bring us a lot more water. Then, I don’t think we’d have a choice, and the corps would not have a choice. They’d have to start releasing because, as you can see, the construction here, you know, is adding to the fragility of the Herbert Hoover Dike.”

Gardner believes the dike and a new lake operation manual will protect both inland and coastal communities, “We don’t want to see adverse impacts on the coastal communities, and we certainly don’t want to experience them here.”

Now, she’s optimistic about the work coming downstream.

Reporter:Stephanie Byrne
Writer:WINK News
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