Water-Related News

After Irma, slow-moving crisis headed for lake Okeechobee

The winds and outer bands of Hurricane Irma are long gone, but as rainwater drains south through Florida’s rivers and watersheds, the storm still presents a slow-moving crisis headed right for Lake Okeechobee.

The hurricane dumped a lot of rain upstream of the lake--according to the National Weather Service in Melbourne, the two-day total in Ft. Pierce alone was more than 21 inches. As Irma’s rainfall reaches Lake Okeechobee, the increasing water level could cause problems with the aging Herbert Hoover Dike--a 143-mile earthen dam that surrounds the lake, parts of which were built in the late 1940s.

According to Mark Perry, the executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society in Stuart, the water levels in Lake Okeechobee are already on the rise from Irma’s rains. “We’re going to still see that effect for several weeks going forward,” says Perry.

Nearly $900 million has been spent to reinforce the dike since 2001. That work includes installing a partial cutoff wall along the southeast part of the dike and removal and replacement of water control structures such as culverts. A Lloyds of London analysis shows more than 400,000 residents and their homes and businesses would be at risk if the dike were to fail.