Lake Okeechobee rising, harmful discharges continue

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced this morning that it will maintain the current level of freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.

Recent rains mean the lake is filling up again. It had been receding during an abnormally April and early May.

Today, the lake was at 13.88 feet above sea level, which is 0.24 feet higher than just two days ago. The lake peaked at 16.4 feet in February.

“The level in the lake is still high for this time of year, which is the major factor in our decision to continue flows at current rates,” said Jim Jeffords, Jacksonville District Operations Division Chief.

Water is released from Lake Okeechobee through the gates at Port Mayaca into The St. Lucie Canal (C-44). (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

Water is released from Lake Okeechobee through the gates at Port Mayaca into The St. Lucie Canal (C-44). (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

An average of about 650 cubic feet per second is being released into the St. Lucie estuary. That’s 420 million gallons per day.

The Caloosahatchee is getting about 1.2 billion gallons per day.

Florida water ­managers monitor the level of Lake Okeechobee closely because if it gets too high, it could begin to erode dike that protects communities around the lake from flooding. The corps likes to keep the lake between 12.5 feet and 15.5 feet above sea level.

Sending freshwater into the estuaries is harmful to ecosystems that thrive on brackish water.

“We are sensitive to environmental conditions throughout the system,” Jeffords said. “Our current release decision remains lower than what’s authorized under the 2008 Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule.”

 

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