No change in flows from Lake Okeechobee

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced this morning there will be no change in flows out of Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.

The lake has risen slightly over the past few days and now stands at 14.72 feet above sea level.

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“The peak of hurricane season is still ahead,” said Jim Jeffords, Operations Division Chief for the Jacksonville District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “August has produced multiple storms in the past 10 years that have caused the lake to jump three feet.”

Summa Beach in West Palm Beach on June 22, 2016. The algae on this beach tested negative for toxins in the most recent results.

Intracoastal beach Summa Beach in West Palm Beach on June 22, 2016.

About 420 million gallons per day of Lake Okeechobee water is flowing into the St. Lucie Estuary. The Caloosahatchee is getting about 1.8 billion gallons per day.

The freshwater is damaging to the brackish estuaries. Also, Lake Okeechobee has an extensive algae bloom that “seeding” blooms in the St. Lucie River.

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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for managing water levels in Lake Okeechobee so the aging Herbert Hoover Dike doesn’t erode, putting communities around the lake in danger of flooding.

The Corps likes to keep the lake between 12.5 feet and 15.5 feet above sea level. The highest the lake has been was 18.7 feet in 1947, said John Campbell, a spokesman for the Corps.

In February, it reached 16.4 feet after the wettest January on record left the 16 counties overseen by the South Florida Water Management District with 7.25 inches of rain above normal.

Since then, billions of gallons per day of fresh lake water have been released into the brackish ecosystems of the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.

Still, the lake level July 1 was the highest for that date in a decade.

If the lake gets too high, it can damage portions of the Herbert Hoover Dike, which protects surrounding communities from flooding.

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Algae flows out of Lake Okeechobee on Friday, July 8. Photo by Palm Beach Post photographer Joe Forzano

Algae flows out of Lake Okeechobee on Friday, July 8. Photo by Palm Beach Post photographer Joe Forzano

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