Lake Okeechobee level steady, just under 13 feet

OKEECHOBEE — The water level in Lake Okeechobee to continues to hold just under 13 feet, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

On Feb. 24, the lake level was 12.78 feet above sea level, down just slightly from the 12.94 feet level the previous week. The lake level is very close to the 2019 level for the same date, which was 12.85 feet. The 2018 lake level for Feb. 24 was 14.96 feet. The average, based on data from 1965 through 2007, is 14.55 feet.

On Feb. 21, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced they will continue to release water from the lake to the Caloosahatchee in a pulse pattern that averages 650 cubic feet per second (cfs) over a seven-day period measured at the W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam (S-79). No releases are planned through the St. Lucie Lock and Dam (S-80).

“We’ve had a fairly wet February with 111% of normal rainfall so far, and the lake has been fairly stable for the last month,” said Col. Andrew Kelly, Jacksonville District commander. “Given the current conditions on the lake and weather forecasts, maintaining the current releases to the Caloosahatchee to help mitigate salinity rise during the dry season can be accomplished without impacting lake levels, which we expect to be around 12 feet when the rainy season begins.”

The corps continues to predict the lake level will be around 12 feet at the end of the dry season, which is ideal for the ecology of the lake. The Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS), established in 2008, tries to keep the lake within the beneficial range of 12.5 to 15.5 feet. More recently, the scientific study funded by the corps found the ideal range is 12 feet to 15 feet.

Prolonged water levels above 16 feet can damage the submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV), which provides critical habitat for the lake’s fisheries and also helps clean the water.

The corps is currently working on a new plan, the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual, which will go into effect at the end of 2022, when the repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike are scheduled to be completed.

Water flow
For the calendar year 2020, so far about 74,000 acre-feet of water has flowed into Lake Okeechobee from the north (86.4% of inflow) and about 11,000 acre-feet (13%) has backflowed into the lake from the east via the C-44 (St. Lucie) and L-8 canals. About 1,000 acre-feet of water has flowed into the lake from the Clewiston area. Clewiston is 16 feet above sea level and water sometimes flows into the lake at Clewiston. This is gravity flow.

There has been no backpumping of water into the lake this year.

Algae reports
In the past 30 days, FDEP investigated three reports of algae on Lake O.
• Feb. 5, traces of blue-green algae were reported on Lake Okeechobee in Glades County waters. Tests found the dominant species was Cylindrospermopsis raciborskii. No toxins were detected.
• Feb. 5, an algae bloom in Lake Okeechobee in Palm Beach County waters about two miles west of Ritta Island, had low levels of microcystin at 1.3 micrograms per liter. Microcystis aeruginosa was the dominant species. The Environmental Protection Agency considers toxin levels below 8 micrograms per liter as safe for human recreational contact.
• Feb. 5, streaks of blue-green algae were visible on the water surface about a mile east of Ritta Island in Palm Beach County waters on Lake Okeechobee. Tests found mixed algae with no dominant species. No toxins were detected.

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