Letter to the Editor:
Lake Okeechobee, from the heart as a concerned resident

Posted 9/17/21

Hello, my name is Lavonne Sherrell. I am a veteran and a lifelong resident of Clewiston for 71 years.

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Letter to the Editor:
Lake Okeechobee, from the heart as a concerned resident

Posted

Hello, my name is Lavonne Sherrell. I am a veteran and a lifelong resident of Clewiston for 71 years. My life as a commercial fisherman began on Lake Okeechobee in 1977, 44 years ago, and as of this time is still ongoing. I have been close to Lake Okeechobee all my life.

I have seen many changes on the lake throughout my years, with very few of them for the good. From the beginning, I have worked closely with the game and fish commission and the biologists from the beginning. Through the years, we’ve gained an abundance of biological data about Lake Okeechobee and our fishing program and as far as I can tell, it all seems good.

I’d like to write a little about the lake and its relation to the Kissimmee River. Channelization of the river started sometime after 1947 and was completed in 1970. As pollution worsened, there were ongoing efforts in the 1990s that partially restored the Kissimmee River to its original state.

In my 44 years of working on the lake, we had high waters more than 38 percent of that time. The problem is anything over 15 feet of water for a period of two to three months or longer is devastating to the vegetation that serves as nature’s filtration system. When it comes to seeing clean or clear waters in Lake Okeechobee again, that may be a thing of the past.

Here are some examples of water level data collected:
• August 1978-1980, 23 months of high water, 15 to 17+ feet
• August 1982 - January 1985, 30 months of high water, 15 to 17.98 feet
• 1986-1988, 13 months of high water, 15 to 16+ feet
• 1991-1993, 19 months of high water, 15 to 16+ feet
• August 1994 - October 1996, 27 consecutive months of high water, 15 to 17.94 feet
• September 1997 - March 2000, 24 months of high water, 15 to 18.30 feet

There’s more data, though it should be clear the trend you’re seeing with what I’ve shown you.

This is what our water managers have been doing for years. This is unacceptable. It began in the second half of 1978. There was peppergrass along with other vegetation for miles and miles. As of now, 90% of this has been destroyed. A lot of this took place from 1978 to 1985 and when lake levels exceeded 17 feet numerous times over long periods, and the damage just keeps going.

I have seen a lot happen in my 44 years working on the lake and it seems the water managers have learned very little. Lake Okeechobee needs low water levels too. Until we stop looking at the lake as a “reservoir,” and start looking at it as one of Mother Nature’s wonders, we will never have clean nor clear water in it again. And now they want to hold higher water levels in the lake. At 15.5 feet it went to 17+ feet sometimes. And now at the new 17 feet level it may go to 19+ feet sometimes. This lake belongs to everyone and not just to the water managers to do with as they see fit.

Low water levels are essential to the health of Lake Okeechobee and its vegetation, as it would allow for its natural filtration system to begin restoring itself. Just remember high water levels means more frequent lock closures and for longer periods of time. This is a direct impact to businesses and anglers around the lake. Furthermore, there are numerous local and commercial businesses that rely on the lake and its resources that have been severely impacted by water management decisions for several years now and I see it negatively impacting our communities around the lake in the long run. Increasing water levels is damaging to everyone, not just the lake itself. Please research the past damages from high water and as our water managers, please make your decisions based on the welfare of OUR lake.

Please do not forget that high water levels are unacceptable for the wellbeing and welfare of OUR lake. The People’s Lake. This enough.

From a concerned 71-year resident of Lake Okeechobee,
Thank you,
Lavonne Sherrell

lake okeechobee

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