NewsLocal News


Lake O water levels remain high heading into wet season

NASA Lake O July 3 from Landsat 8
Posted at 6:06 PM, May 18, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-18 18:23:12-04

W.P. FRANKLIN LOCK AND DAM, Fla. — With the rainy season starting this week and hurricane season a few weeks away, there is concern that Lake Okeechobee is still too full. While the Army Corps of Engineers has been completing their normal releases during the dry season, groups like the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation say higher lake levels increase the risk of damaging water releases.

“So, if the lake is too high by the time we hit that busy tropical storm hurricane season, they are going to have to make releases and the estuaries are going to be the ones that suffer,” said Leah Reidenbach, a researcher and policy associate with Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation.

Reidenbach says they are concerned that the Army Corps of Engineers will not meet their target of about 13 feet by next month. Lake O is currently about 14 feet deep. While the Corps is releasing water, SCCF would like to see Lake O at a lower level.

“Even at the current recession rates, it won’t even close to 13 feet by the beginning of June,” said Reidenbach.

Right now, the lake is dropping at a rate of about 0.02 feet per week, so it would be at 13.3 feet by June 1st. SCCF says the ideal lake height is 12.5 feet to start the wet season.

“That basically gives Lake O room to add water to it as the wet season progresses,” said Reidenbach. “And have enough water for water supply and environmental purposes."

FGCU Water School’s Dr. Barry Rosen further explained it is for the protection of the integrity of the lake.

“It is for the integrity of the dike, the protection of the dike so it doesn’t give way. And so, they don’t have to extreme measures to push more water out the Caloosahatchee and Saint Lucie side.”

While SCCF is concerned the Lake is too high, Dr. Rosen isn’t quite as concerned.

“There is not that much over, I think we are half a foot or three-quarters of foot overall average at this time of year. So, we are below 14 feet, so we are in good shape.”

And while the Army Corps does release water, Dr. Rosen says they don’t have perfect control.

“Don’t forget the Lake is 33 miles by 30 miles. It is not as if we have perfect control. We actually have very little control. 5 feet of waterfalls on the lake every year, and 5 feet of water evaporates off the lake each year. And if you at the amount being discharged down the Caloosahatchee it is just a fraction of that.”

That said SCCF is concerned if a large discharge does happen it would provide the ingredients for algae blooms.

“Those discharges will give nutrients to algae blooms in the river, in the fresh portion of the river or even feeding red tide blooms that out in the saltwater part of the estuary.”

While the red tide off our Gulf Coast has been continuing to reduce, the Lee County Environmental Lab has detected small amounts of cyanobacteria just upstream from here at the Franklin Lock. Blue-green algae are already being detected via NOAA satellite on Lake Okeechobee.