WEST PALM BEACH — No releases from Lake Okeechobee are planned to the coastal estuaries in the foreseeable future.
At a press conference in West Palm Beach on Sept. 6, Col. Andrew Kelly of the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers explained that as Hurricane Dorian approached, they had initially expected to make large releases from the lake to the St. Lucie Canal and the Caloosahatchee River in order to offset the heavy inflow expected from the north. The hurricane’s track changed, and the watershed received less rain than expected.
In addition, the South Florida Water Management District is sending water south under the Tamiami Trail to Everglades National Park at a rate of 2,000 cubic feet per second, about double the rate water was flowing south earlier in the wet season. SFWMD will also hold more water north of the lake in Lake Kissimmee and Lake Istokpoga.
Col. Kelly said with the lake near 14 feet above sea level, his primary concern is the next storm.
“It looks like it is going to be dry for about a week,” he said. “SFWMD is doing things in the northern watershed that allows us not to make any releases east and west,” he said.
“The trend right now is not to do any releases east and west.”
Col. Kelly said they will review the conditions weekly throughout the rest of the wet season.
“We are not planning any releases this week and we will readdress next week,” he said.
Drew Bartlett, SFWMD executive director, said more water is moving from the lake south to a storage area, and from there to the water conservation areas (WCAs) and then under the Tamiami Trail to Everglades National Park.
“We are also holding water north of the lake in Lake Istokpoga and Lake Kissimmee,” said Mr. Bartlett.
Col. Kelly said Corps of Engineers had about 400 personnel deployed for Hurricane Dorian.
“The Herbert Hoover Dike was very well prepared for the storm,” he said.
“We did an orderly shutdown of all of our construction sites. We were communicating with emergency managers around the lake, providing risk analysis.”
Before the storm, Col. Kelly had predicted the area of the dike most at risk was near Lakeport in Glades County.
“What would happen where we have a construction project was what we call overwash.” He said the hurricane winds could have pushed water over the construction project, causing localized flooding. Had that happened, the flooding would have predominantly involved farmland, but it could have threatened some homes. The colonel said as the storm progressed, the corps was ready to act to mediate any problems, but fortunately the hurricane did not get close to the lake.
He said the Herbert Hoover Dike is in good shape to handle future storm events.
“There is no way to tell the future. At this stage, we are more prepared than ever to be able to handle anything coming off the Atlantic,” he said.“The dike is getting better every day,” said Col. Kelly. “We are under construction with more cutoff wall. Every day of construction is a better day for the dike. I am fully confident we will complete it by 2022.”
For the 7-day period prior to Sept. 6, average inflow to Lake Okeechobee was 6,761 cfs. There was no outflow from the lake in any direction during that period.
Average flow at the Franklin Lock on the Caloosahatchee River was 2,597 cfs, all from local basin runoff. Average flow at the St. Lucie Lock on the C-44 canal was 460 cfs, all from local basin runoff.
Before the storm, the average flow from the WCAs south of the lake under the Tamiami Trail was around 1,000 cfs. All of the water in the WCAs is from local rainfall. No lake water was released to the south prior to Hurricane Dorian.
Once the water levels in the WCAs are lowered by sending more water under the Tamiami Trail to Everglades National Park, water from the lake can be moved through the canals to the stormwater treatment areas and then to the WCAs south of the lake, and eventually south to the park.