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Lake Okeechobee’s new cutoff wall adding an extra layer of safety

On Wednesday, the equivalent of 260-million bathtubs full of water flowed into Lake Okeechobee as Eta moved over Florida.

We flew the WINK News drone above Lake Okeechobee to see the changes, and the lake’s water level now stands at 16.39 (Feet-NGVD29) as of 4 p.m.

The Herbert Hoover Dike system consists of 143 miles of levee, hurricane gates, and other water control structures. It surrounds the lake and helps to keep water in and the community safe. But it’s old, and the construction of the earthen dam was completed in the late 1960s.

Changes are coming.

For now, construction is part of Lake Okeechobee’s landscape.

Almur Whiting IV is the Jacksonville District Dam Safety Program Manager. He says, “We are working hard to make sure that we keep the public safe. Make sure that we stay vigilant.”

But what the Army of Corps Engineers is building now. You will never see it.

Lake Okeechobee Hebert Hoover Dike on November 12, 2020.

“It’s approximately three feet thick, and it goes anywhere from 40 to 70 feet below the ground. And then at the end of the project, it’s buried,” Whiting explained.

It’s an underground cutoff wall wrapping miles of the lake.

He added, “Right now, there’s a large portion of the dike, where we need the wall that’s being constructed. And until that time, we are in heightened security and surveillance and monitoring.”

According to Geosyntec Consultants: The cutoff wall, a critical design feature in the dike rehabilitation, will minimize existing internal erosion, known as “piping,” and prevent further damage to the internal structure of the dike.”

That’s the goal.

Whiting said, “During high lake events in the past, we’ve seen a lot of distress, seepage, sinkholes and other things that led us to the conclusion that we needed the seepage cutoff wall.”

Lake Okeechobee Hebert Hoover Dike on November 12, 2020.

The cutoff wall is just one of several projects to keep nearby communities safe from flooding.

“We don’t take things for granted like Eta coming. We were prepared for the lake to rise a lot and increase inspections. We got lucky. We didn’t have to, but we are prepared to do that in the future.”

The Army Corps hopes all of their rehabilitation construction projects are done in about two years.

The Corps will give update us on Lake Okeechobee’s water levels and releases Friday morning.

Reporter:Anika Henanger
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