LAKE OKEECHOBEE — The level of Lake Okeechobee continues to fall, according to the weekly environmental conditions report shared by John Mitnik of the South Florida Water Management District on March 25.
As of March 25, the lake level had dropped 0.6 feet in the past month and 0.18 feet in the past week. No rain fell over the lake in the past week.
As of March 12, wading bird nesting was low, with 246 nests counted in the most recent survey.
Water levels have been below 14 feet since October 2018, leaving many areas of the marsh continuously dry for two wading-bird seasons, so current conditions on the lake are not favorable for nesting.
The lake stage is 1.08 feet below the bottom of the ecological envelope, which varies seasonally from 12 to 15 feet. Lake stages below the ecological envelope will continue to benefit recovering submerged and emergent marsh vegetation at low elevations but will reduce aquatic habitat for fish and wildlife in the marshes, the report states.
Wading bird and snail kite nesting efforts are likely to be lower for the second consecutive year on the lake if lake stages continue to be below the ecological envelope throughout the breeding season.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues to release water from the lake into the Caloosahatchee River at Moore Haven, to help protect the river from saltwater intrusion. The SFMWD guidelines call for a minimum freshwater flow of 457 cubic feet per second as measured at the Franklin Lock. Most recently, the corps set the target flow at 650 cfs. For the week of March 17-25, the average flow from the lake to the Caloosahatchee River was 514 cfs. The Franklin is 43.4 miles from the Moore Haven lock. If there is no rainfall in the basin, some water can be lost along the way, so more is released from the lake to guarantee the minimum flow. If there is rainfall in the basin, less water can be released from the lake, as basin runoff can contribute to the required minimum flow.
As of Tuesday, March 31, Lake Okeechobee’s level had fallen to 11.91 feet.