Irma is long gone, but South Florida’s watery wilderness is still feeling the pain
When Hurricane Irma charged across the state last month, coastal communities hammered by powerful storm surges drew most headlines. But inland Lake Okeechobee, the state’s massive 730-square-mile liquid heart, also took a hit.
Lake levels already high from the wettest rainy season in 86 years shot up 3 and a half feet, raising concerns about the shallow lake’s aging dike. Marshy edges that provide nesting habitat for endangered snail kites and fishing holes for anglers disappeared under brown water. With tropical storm force winds swirling across the lake like a giant Cuisinart for more than 24 hours, dirty water mixed with polluted sediment on the lake bottom.
About 5,300 acres of vegetation, made up mostly of cattails, also got uprooted and tossed into the mix, eliminating a protective boundary that helps keep turbid water from the lake’s interior away from its cleaner fringes.