Lake O rising as storm runoff flows south

Posted 10/17/22

As billions of gallons of runoff from Hurricane Ian flow south, Lake Okeechobee is rising.

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Lake O rising as storm runoff flows south

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As billions of gallons of runoff from Hurricane Ian flow south, Lake Okeechobee is rising.

The day before the hurricane hit Florida, the big lake was at 13.11 feet above sea level. Three weeks later, the lake level is 15.17 feet and rising. One inch on Lake Okeechobee is about 12 billion gallons of water.

“Right now, it’s a dynamic system, with a lot of water being moved around,” said South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Chief Engineer John Mitnik, at the Oct. 13 online meeting of the SFWMD Governing Board.

Well before the hurricane made landfall, the district was making preparations. District staff prepositioned pumps and other equipment..

The Upper Kissimmee basin received the heaviest rains -- a one in 200-year storm event, he explained.

The epicenter of the rain was near Lake Toho, said Mitnik. In anticipation of the hurricane, water managers drew down the lake levels in the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. During the storm, the lake levels rose from direct rainfall. After the storm, the lake levels continued to rise for several days as the basin drained into the lakes.

Gravity control structures were in full operation, he said. SFWMD also brought in temporary pumps to move water faster down the chain of lakes into the Kissimmee River.

This is the first extreme rain event to test the completed Kissimmee River Restoration Project, he explained. “It’s sort of akin to buying a new car, and not taking it for a test drive, but the first time out, you try to set a land speed record.”

He said water managers are watching the massive flow of water from Orlando/Kissimmee move through the system.

What does all this mean to Lake Okeechobee? “There’s a significant amount of water still in the system that will transition down to the lake,” he explained.

“The system is still evolving,” he said.

Hurricane winds churned Lake Okeechobee. At the height of the storm, the north end of Lake Okeechobee was at 19 feet and the south end of the lake was below 10 feet.

South of the lake, some areas experienced very heavy rainfall. SFWMD back pumped water into Lake O to protect the lakeside communities from flooding.

Lake Okeechobee, hurricane, rising

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