LAKE OKEECHOBEE – The summer of 2021 won’t be a repeat of 2018, if Col. Andrew Kelly’s prediction is correct.
While Kelly warns he does not have the ability to predict the weather, he’s cautously optimistic about the lake conditions this year.
“The lake is at a better place than it was in 2018.”
“A lot of things have changed on the lake,” Kelly explained during a media tour of the Herbert Hoover Dike on April 14. He said the corps and the South Florida Water Management District are “pulling out all the stops to get to the best place we can,” for the level of the big lake at the start of the wet season.
He said there are concerns about the lake level, which was 14.24 feet on April 14. The lake rose slightly this week due to heavy rainfall over the weekend. Water managers like to see the lake below 12.5 feet at the start of the wet season in June.
Kelly said there is some “wispy” algae on the lake, and it’s part of the natural ecosystem. “What we are seeing is very typical in April.” He said where algae has been observed, the corps has requested Florida Department of Environmental Protection do testing, and tests have shown “very low levels of anything.”
The growth of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) has improved the health of the Big O, he said. SAV helps clean the water and also provides habitat for fish. In 2017, the lake’s SAV was devastated when Hurricane Irma winds churned the lake water. The high water levels left by the hurricane kept the vegetation from recovering. In 2019, the corps purposefully lowered the lake below 11 feet in order to help the SAV recover.
“A healthy Lake Okeechobee helps the Everglades,” he said.
Kelly said the current, flexible strategy of lake management means “we don’t have a schedule that requires releases on a set day according to a manual.” He said they make decisions on a day to day basis using the best and most current information available.