Lake Okeechobee is a foot higher than the optimal ecological envelope and is still rising.
On Nov. 30, Lake O was at 16.50 feet above sea level. Optimal levels for the lake’s ecology range from 12.5 feet at the start of the wet season in June to 15.5 at the end of the wet season. At 15.5 feet, the marshes around the edges of the lake are inundated with water. As the lake rises, water stacks up against the side of the Herbert Hoover Dike. Levels above 15.5 feet can damage the marshes and the submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) if the water level rises faster than the plants can grow. That vegetation is critical habitat for fish and wildlife and also helps clean the lake water.
This makes the third year in a row Lake stages have exceeded 16 feet NGVD at the beginning of the dry season.
The most recent satellite image from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) showed no harmful algal bloom potential on Lake Okeechobee.
Since Hurricane Ian dumped nearly 1 million acre feet of water north of Lake Okeechobee, that water has been draining south into Lake O.
According to the Nov. 30 Ecological Conditions Report from the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) most of the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes have returned to their regulation schedules, although releases continue to be made for local basin runoff. Weekly average discharges from Lake Kissimmee to the Kissimmee River, on Nov. 27, 2022, at S-65 and S-65A were 1,600 cfs and 2,000 cfs, respectively, both of which were lower than the previous week. Mean weekly water depth on the Kissimmee River floodplain increased from the previous week to 1.29 feet. The weekly average concentration of dissolved oxygen in the Kissimmee River increased from 2.9 mg/L the previous week to 3.3 mg/L for the week ending Nov. 27, 2022, above both the potentially lethal level and the physiologically stressful range for largemouth bass and other sensitive species.
The stormwater treatment areas (STAs) and Water Conservation Areas (WCAs) south of Lake Okeechobee are at or near target stage. Because so much rain fell south of the lake this year, there has been little capacity for the STAs to accept water from Lake O. The total amount of Lake releases sent to the FEBs/STAs in Water Year 2023 (since May 1, 2022) is approximately 12,600 ac-feet. The total amount of inflows to the STAs in WY2023 is approximately 956,500 ac-feet.
No water was released from the lake to the Caloosahatchee River or the St. Lucie river in the past week. No lake water has been released to the St. Lucie River since April 2021. Lake water is only released to the Caloosahatchee if lake water is needed to maintain the desired salinity levels in the Caloosahatchee estuary. Since there was sufficient basin runoff to meet the flow target at the Franklin Lock, no water was released from the lake. The Franklin Lock is more than 40 miles from Moore Haven where the Caloosahatchee River meets Lake Okeechobee.