WEST PALM BEACH – January rainfall was well below average with just 18% of normal rainfall, a welcome break from wet conditions, John Mitnik, chief engineer, told the South Florida Water Management District at its Feb. 11 meeting.
He said water is being released from the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes so those lake can have a recession during the dry months, but flows are still limited due the construction on the Kissimmee River Restoration project.
He said south of the lake, they should get the water levels in the Water Conservation Areas (WCAs) down to regulation schedule by the end of the month.
According to the data shared at the meeting, since May 2020, for this water year, in total about 2.4 million acre feet of water flowed into the lake. Most of that water came from north of the lake. (About 300,000 acre feet of water backflowed into the lake from the east.)
During that time frame, the Caloosahatchee River received about 1.5 million acre feet including about 600,000 acre feet of lake water. The rest was local basin runoff.
On the east side, the C-44 (St. Lucie) 280,000 acre feet was discharged to the estuaries including about 170,000 acre feet from Lake Okeechobee. (Note, water released from the lake to the St. Lucie was considerably less than the 300,000 acre feet that backflowed into the lake from the St. Lucie canal early in the wet season when the lake level was below 14 feet.)
Outflows in total from the lake were just over 1 million acre feet.
Direct rainfall to the WCAs accounted for about 3.5 million acre feet.
At the bottom end of the system, about 1.6 million acre feet of water has flowed under the Tamiami Trail to the Southern Everglades.
Mitnik said they have conversations with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on a weekly basis in regard to how to move more water south.
SFWMD Governing Board Member Ron Bergeron said he is concerned the lake level could be high at the start of the rainy season. Historically, that has meant wet season releases to east and west to the coastal estuaries.
“We’ve got to open up the bottom of the system so the water is not backing up,” said Bergeron. “I have seen in decade after decade that we are in high water conditions.”
In the ecological conditions report, Lawrence Glenn, director of the Water Resources Division, said they have been keeping the Kissimmee River floodplain drier in order to facilitate the restoration project. The corps is backfilling a portion of the canal that was dredged through the Kissimmee River for flood control.
Glenn said outer edges of the Lake Okeechobee marshes are starting to dry. He said the marsh can be resilient if a high water year follows a low water year. The greater danger comes with periods of several back to back high water years or several back to back low water years.
He said Lake Okeechobee looks good, with low potential for cyanobacterial blooms.