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Herbert Hoover Dike is in the best shape its ever been, Army Corps says

Posted at 5:36 PM, May 30, 2024

LAKEPORT, Fla. — Fox 4 Meteorologist Andrew Shipley recently visited Lake Okeechobee in Glades County to learn about the Herbert Hoover Dike.

The dike is not only important for flood management but also emergency management. It protects communities like Moore Haven and Clewiston from flooding. Without it, Lake Okeechobee could flood its banks like we saw in the 1920s that killed thousands of people.

Shipley spoke with Col. James Booth, the Jacksonville District Commander with Army Corps of Engineers about what they expect this hurricane season and how improvements to the dike is going to help communities at risk.

"It had a massive impact,” said Col. Booth. “That was a wall of water that went through those areas and took a lot of lives with it."

The Herbet Hoover Dike you are see today around Lake O can link its roots to the 1926 Great Miami Hurricane and 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane. Both storms caused significant flooding from levee and dike failures around the lake. The Great Miami Hurricane alone killed more 100 people in Moore Haven, while the Okeechobee Hurricane killed nearly 2,000 people near Belle Glade.

"That is why the Army Corps of Engineers is here,” said Col. Booth. “In the late 20s and 30s did the design work and construction of the Herbert Hoover Dike in the 30s and the central and southern Florida systems to kind of wrap around it in the 40s, 50s, 60s, and early 70s."

And the dike continues to be improved. It's gotten a nearly 2-billion-dollar investment to improve the system over the last 2 decades. Col. Booth says those improvements include better armor around water control structures and new water cut off walls in many of the culverts.

"As someone said recently, they are happy that they are working emergency operations, one of our team members said this, that they prefer in 2024 to be doing emergency operations and inspections along the Herbert Hoover Dike rather than 20 years ago,” said Col. Booth. “It's in the best shape it has ever been in."

And these improvements have allowed the corps to hold more water in the lake.

"Even three or four years ago, if the Lake got above let's say 15 feet above elevation above sea level, 15.5 feet, we would be out there on a regular basis checking weak spots that we knew of,” said Col. Booth. “We have a lot more tolerance now that we know those areas are fixed."

The lake still has its limits. That is why the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released high volumes of water from the lake this past February. With those releases and evaporation off the lake, it's down 2.5 feet. Col. Booth says that gives them enough space for this wet season's rainfall.

"That sets a very good condition to accept what would be a typical wet season amount of water that will come into Lake Okeechobee," said Col. Booth.

but any extra rainfall from a tropical system would likely have to be quickly moved out of the lake, in case there's another storm behind it.

"We have seen hurricanes that can blow effectively a storm surge on the lake of 10 feet of water,” said Col. Booth. “So just imagine 10 feet of water shifting up against the embankment on the interior. We want to make sure there is room for that, so that water isn't sloshing over the top. That can create another failure mode."

While the Corps can move that water relatively quickly for the safety of the communities around the lake, Col. Booth says they will also think about things like if they're releasing blue green algae.

"I am going to try and hold off on that release until that algal activity dissipates, but if we are at a point where we really have to move water, and we are looking at other issues of multiple storms coming in, we might get force to that level,” said Col. Booth. “But we will always try to make decisions to pause and let the algal situation move away from that particular structure."

Heading into the 2024 hurricane season Col. Booth wants to residents to be reassured that the Herbert Hoover Dike is in the best place it has ever been and that they are confident heading into hurricane season.