SFWMD: ‘Impacts of Operating Lake Okeechobee at Lower Water Levels’

Excerpted from the South Florida Water Management District graphic, these are some of the effects of lower lake levels.

12.5’ — 10.5 feet

When the lake falls into the water shortage band:

• The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) orders water use cutbacks and mandatory restrictions. Water deliveries to all are reduced.

• Ecological impacts can occur when the lake’s water level goes below 11 feet for more than 80 days — a violation of the Lake Okeechobee minimum flow and minimum water level rule.

• Decrease in environmental water deliveries to the Caloosahatchee Estuary.

• Difficulty delivering water supply to the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Big Cypress and Brighton Reservations.

• Lake Okeechobee lock operations discontinued along northern shore due to safety concens.

• Navigation restictions for the Okeechobee Waterway rim canal due to shallow water make lake crossing unsafe for large boats with deeper drafts.

• Reduced lock operations along C-43 and C-44 canals.

•Impact to crops in the Lake Okeechobee and Lower East Coast service areas, potentially causing impact to nationwide crop prices and domestic availability.

• Shallow water limits recreational and commercial fishing and impacts small businesses such as marinas.

10.5 — 9.5 feet

• Severe reduction in capability to deliver water south of the lake for any beneficial purpose.

• Increased risk of permanently compromising freshwater supplies in wellfields due to saltwater intrusion in urban coastal areas, affecting health and safety.

• City of Okeechobee’s withdrawal for water supply needs is compromised, impacting public health and safety.

• Primary water supply source for City of West Palm Beach’s Grassy Waters Preserve no longer available, affecting 100,000 residents.

• SFWMD orders increased water shortage restrictions on communities, negatively impacting businesses and a population of more than 6 million south of the lake and coastal communities, stretching to Miami-Dade County and the Florida Keys.

• Wildlife and endangered species’ survival affected as water needs for Water Conservation Areas no longer met.

9.5 — 8.0 feet

• Saltwater intrusion within the Caloosahatchee River (C-43) precludes lock operations and compromises Lee County water treatment plant. Navigation from Lake Okeechobee is no longer available.

• Pump stations in S-351, S-352 and S-354 on the rim of the lake are dry and inoperable, no longer moving water out of the lake.

• Everglades Stormwater Treatment Areas no longer receive water to sustain wetland plants that remove nutrients from the water. Costly restoration infrastructure critical to sending water south is compromised.

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