Lake benefits from December rain

LAKE OKEECHOBEE — Will 2020 bring water shortages? It all depends on the dry season rainfall.

At the December meeting of South Florida Water Management District Governing Board, Executive Director Drew Bartlett warned the members they could be discussing water shortage plans at their January meeting.

Col. Andrew Kelly of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was cautiously optimistic in his most recent statements about the lake level. The corps’ plan for the dry season would put the lake at 12 feet above sea level at the start of the wet season.

December rainfall helped the water level in Lake Okeechobee, which ended the year just above 13 feet above sea level.

On Dec. 31, the lake level was at 13.16 feet, showing a slight rise in the past seven days. The Dec. 24 level was 13.03 feet.

The historic lake level average for this date (based on 1965-2007 data) is 14.65 feet.

Because the lake level is below 14 feet, and the level in the St. Lucie Canal is higher than the water level of the lake, water continues to backflow into the lake from the St. Lucie Canal through the water control structure at Port Mayaca. An average of 440 cubic feet per second backflowed into the lake from the St. Lucie Canal at Port Mayaca over the past seven days, or about 2 billion gallons for the week. One inch on Lake Okeechobee is about 12 billion gallons of water.

Over the past week, the an average of 271 cfs flowed from the lake into the Caloosahatchee River at the Moore Haven lock. Freshwater releases to the Caloosahatchee River are needed during the dry season to combat saltwater intrusion in the river. The SFWMD plan guarantees the Caloosahatchee a minimum flow of 450 cfs, measured at the Franklin Lock. The Franklin Lock is 43.4 miles from the Moore Haven Lock. If there is rainfall in the Caloosahatchee River basin, less water is needed from the lake to maintain that minimum flow.

Over the past week, an average of 100 cfs flowed south from Lake Okeechobee.

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