Water-Related News

Lake Okeechobee Water Releases Replenish Estuary

Water is being released from Lake Okeechobee to shore up the Caloosahatchee Estuary, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced.

The corps is making the release in a pulse-like manner to mimic rainfall, it said. The target flow to the estuary will be an average of 450 cubic feet per second through next Friday . The Caloosahatchee River Estuary drains a watershed in Southwest Florida extending from Lake Okeechobee on the east to the Gulf of Mexico on the west.

The lake level was at 13.78 feet above sea level Friday and has been stable for many weeks, the corps said. A year ago, the lake stood at 12.52 feet, and the historical average for the date is 14.73 feet.

"The lake level and the increasing salinity levels at various gauges indicate we need to release water for environmental purposes," said John Kilpatrick, chief of the Jacksonville District's Multi-Project Branch, which has oversight of water management at the lake. "Further releases will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis with regard to longer term lake-level prediction."

Randy Smith, spokesman for the South Florida Water Management District, said Friday that a water shortage warning is still in place for a 16-county region and homeowners remain under landscape irrigation restrictions.

"The water shortage warning is in place because it is the dry season. Most of the forecasts are calling for a drier-than-normal dry season," Smith said. "We can fall back into a drought situation rapidly."

Western Palm Beach County agricultural producers count on water from Lake Okeechobee as a backup in case of a shortage.

Several said the water releases are in line with regulations and protocols adopted by the state last year, and they do not have a problem with them.

"All we ask is that the governmental entities follow the rules so there is predictability in water for all uses - be environmental, agricultural or urban systems," said Barbara Miedema, spokeswoman for the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida of Belle Glade.

U.S. Sugar spokeswoman Judy Sanchez agreed.

"Thankfully, we received enough rainfall during the last few months to move Lake Okeechobee out of extreme drought levels and into a normal range," she said. "This provides a measure of relief for all of us."

Sugar cane and vegetable grower John Hundley of Hundley Farms east of Belle Glade said, "The small amounts of rain over the past few weeks have helped tremendously and our winter crops look great."