Lake Okeechobee will start the wet season more than a foot higher than optimal.
On May 31, Lake O was 13.87 feet above sea level. The RECOVER ecological envelope for the lake ranges from 12 feet at the start of the wet season (around June 1) to a high of 15.5 feet at the start of the dry season.
RECOVER (REstoration COordination & VERification) is a multi-agency team of scientists, modelers, planners and resource specialists who organize and apply scientific and technical information in ways that are essential in supporting the objectives of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP).
The lake needs levels below 12.5 feet for at least 30 consecutive days in order for new submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) to germinate. SAV filters the water and provides habitat for fish.
Starting the wet season at 13.87 feet means there is little chance for new SAV this year.
The high lake level also increases the chance of harmful freshwater releases to the coastal estuaries if the state is hit with a hurricane because there is less capacity in the big lake to take water.
At 15.5 feet, the lake’s marshes are completely inundated with water. As levels go above 15.5 feet, water stacks up on the side of the dike. Lake levels above 15.5 feet damage the marshes.
While the Herbert Hoover Dike repairs completed last year mean the dike is safer, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is comfortable allowing the lake level to go up to 17.25 feet, there is still a limit to how much water the lake can hold.
The lake level could also impact operation of the St. Lucie Canal. When the lake level is below 14 feet, the St. Lucie (C-44) canal can flow west into the lake or east into the St. Lucie River. USACE tries to keep the canal about 14 feet above sea level for navigation and local water supply. Once the lake hits 14 feet, if the canal level rises from local basin runoff, USACE can only release that water east to the St. Lucie River. Too much freshwater lowers the salinity level in the St. Lucie estuary, making it more vulnerable to cyanobacteria (blue-green alage) blooms.
An April 5 story on this website predicted a June 1 lake level of 13.7 feet if conditions did not change.