LAKE OKEECHOBEE, Fla. — For weeks, Fox 4 has been monitoring the high water levels on Lake Okeechobee.
As of Friday, the lake is at 15 feet 4 inches — about two and half feet above normal. It's also about a foot away from the Army Corps of Engineers having to make decisions about possible larger lake releases.
With the tropics on the mind of many Floridians this week, Fox 4 Meteorologist Andrew Shipley asked Col. James Booth, who oversees Lake operations, about the potential for heavy rainfall in parts of the state and what that would mean for the Lake.
“How much water directly hits Lake Okeechobee and raise the water level pretty quickly, but then we are also looking at what is going to come the rest of the watershed, that is north of the Lake,” said Col. Booth, District Commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District.
While many of us in Southwest Florida think about lake water coming down the Caloosahatchee, Lake Okeechobee is also fed from the north by the Kissimmee River. That means the amount of rain that falls in Central Florida plays into how high the Lake gets.
“It could take up to a few weeks for all that water to come down from basically Orlando down, to see the full level of rise on the Lake from one particular event,” said Col. Booth.
Col. Booth said if a storm is projected to drop significant rainfall on the Lake, the Army Corps typically wait until storm passes to make any decisions on releases.
“We are actually likely to watch that come in,” said Col. Booth. “We will lock the lake down, so it doesn’t have any issues during the storm. We see how much water actually falls on the lake and we will start to make decisions on where the lake was after that rainfall event. And how much we expect from the watershed.”
But with the lake already at high levels, Col. Booth said he looks at a lot of different factors when making decisions, including if the Lake crosses 16.5 feet. When levels reach that height or higher, it could lead to structural issues with the dikes around the Lake. It could lead to decisions for large releases.
“If we see that the Lake crests at 16.5, I would likely say, hey I am comfortable,” said Col. Booth. “We will hold with just beneficial releases and try to bring that down. If we see multiple weeks of climbing conditions of lake water level climb, then I would likely be more apt to move into the high flows to arrest that rise on the lake.”
While we are continuing to watch high water levels on Lake Okeechobee, the good news that Col. Booth gave was blue green algae levels continue to fall, now only covering 16% of the Lake.