Heavy Rains and Inflows Raise Lake O Water Level Above 16-Feet
South Florida - Friday October 20, 2023: Last week’s heavy rains raised the level of Lake Okeechobee over 16 feet, inching closer to the point where dike safety may prompt increased releases west down the Caloosahatchee and the first releases of the season down the St. Lucie estuary.
During last week's media call U.S. Army Crops Col. James Booth said there is no set level that that remains in effect throughout the entire wet season that would trigger stepped up releases of water from Lake Okeechobee. It varies, he said.
A few months ago, what the Corps calls the “high lake management band” was at 6-feet 5-inches. Now it’s at 16-feet 6, or 7 inches, said Booth.
“What you’re talking about is a high Lake management band area where we start to look at health and life safety issues and potentials of higher-level releases," said Col. Booth. "That schedule actually increases as we get towards the end of the wet season acknowledging that there is likely more water ion the Lake.”
And there is indeed more water in the lake, 16-feet 3-inches as of yesterday, Thursday October 19, the Lake level stood at 16.28 inches, about 3-inches shy of that high lake management band.
Booth said if the Crops had been following its Regulation Schedule this season, they would have been sending up to 4,000 cubic feet of Lake water west down the Caloosahatchee and 1,800 cubic feet down the St. Lucie River. "That is the 'up-to' amount our current operating schedule calls for, that we could consider."
However Booth said they have the flexibility to adjust, and that's what they have been doing all season. "Our wet season strategy remains unchanged," he said.
Mother nature has been good to the Corps this year, enabling its engineers to keep the early season toxic-algae laden Lake O water bottled up while only allowing limited releases down the Caloosahatchee, and virtually none down the St. Lucie all season long.
“The bulk of run-off that’s come through the Caloosahatchee River, 87% is water-shed run-off," said Col. Booth. "Only 13% is coming off the Lake. To the east, was zero cubic feet per second. No Lake water has been released to the St. Lucie estuary.”
So, despite the highest Lake level of the wet season, Booth said there are no plans for releasing more water down either estuary, for now. And he added that there’s much less algae in the Lake to worry about as well.
“We’ll continue to watch what’s going on with these water levels as additional rain may come into the system, and make any changes that are in accordance with the combined operations plan," said Col. Booth.