JACKSONVILLE – The rainy season has started, and Lake Okeechobee has begun to rise. On Friday, June 25, the lake level was 12.63 feet above sea level.
“We’re definitely seeing the rainy season upon us,” said Col. Andrew Kelly, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District, in a media briefing.
The Big O is about a quarter of a foot higher than this time last year, he added.
“We’ve received about 84% of average rainfall in June so far,” said Kelly. An extremely dry May helped bring the lake level down, he explained, putting the lake in better position for hurricane season.
“There are a couple of disturbances out in the Atlantic we are watching, but nothing threatening right now,” he added.
“Last week we have been seeing wet season patterns and rain south of the lake,” said Kelly. He said they were unable to send water south from the lake this week because direct rainfall took up all of the capacity there. The weather outlook for the coming week indicates there will be more rain south of Lake O, he added.
About 630 cubic feet per second (cfs) is moving under the Tamiami Trail (from WCA-3A to Everglades National Park) but no water is going south from Lake Okeechobee. Water Conservation Area (WCA) 2-A, which is south of the Everglades Agricultural Area, is about three-quarters of a foot above schedule, while WCA-1A and WCA-3A are slightly below schedule. Kelly said the difference is due to rainfall in WCA-2A.
This time of year, Mother Nature is in charge.
The corps is not releasing any lake water to the St. Lucie River. However, flow at the Port Mayaca Lock to the C-44 canal (aka St. Lucie canal) varies. “If it’s raining a lot, sometimes the water flows into the lake from the canal,” said Kelly. “If it’s dry, water flows out of the lake for water supply.”
Flow to the Caloosahatchee River, measured at the Franklin Lock, continues to average the ecologically optimal freshwater flow of 1,000 cfs. Kelly explained the water is released in pulses to mimic Mother Nature and rain events. The Franklin Lock is more than 40 miles from the Julian Keen Jr. Lock (S-77 structure) at Moore Haven, where flow from the lake enters the Caloosahatchee River.
For the seven day period ending June 25, average flow at the Julian Keen Jr. Lock was 796 cfs.
“In recent weeks, we have seen it come back somewhat,” he said. “We’ve seen pretty significant algae around 308 structure (Port Mayaca Lock). The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) is treating that algae as they do in highly populated areas when algae flares up.”
He said SFWMD and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) are addressing visible algal blooms with a variety of treatments. “They’re really getting after it in terms of treatment,” he said.
He said SFWMD and FDEP are developing new tools, “as we learn more and figure out better ways to manage some of that algae.”
“We still anticipate a little bit higher algae year than we’ve had in the past,” Kelly warned.