St. Lucie water flowing INTO the Big O

LAKE OKEECHOBEE — In a marked contrast to the same time last year, water is flowing INTO Lake Okeechobee at the Port Mayaca Lock.

Heavy rainfall in the St. Lucie River basin means the water level in the C-44 canal is higher than the level in Lake Okeechobee.

When this happens, the corps can either let the water flow into Lake Okeechobee or they can open the other water structures to allow it to flow out to the ocean, explained John Campbell with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Due to the concern for the low lake level, they opted to release the excess freshwater from the recent rains into the lake.

In June 2016, water from Lake Okeechobee was flowing into the St. Lucie at a rate of 1,800 cfs, sparking protests from coastal residents opposed to the freshwater flow.

On Wednesday and Thursday, water was flowing from the C-44 into the lake at the Port Mayaca Lock at a rate of 2,000 cubic feet per second. Mr. Campbell said that while that is a substantial flow it is not significant for the lake.

If that 2,000 cfs were allowed to flow to the ocean for a few days, it would probably not be detrimental to the estuaries, Mr. Campbell said. The problems come when there is a continued high flow of freshwater over many days.

On the west side of the lake, no water is flowing into the Caloosahatchee River at Moore Haven, because rainfall this week has been sufficient to provide freshwater flow to the river. The corps schedule would allow for 375 cfs., but since there has been sufficient rainfall in that basin, no water is being released from the lake. Last week, Lee County officials were asking for more lake water to be released due to concerns about saltwater intrusion. This week, they have enough rainfall that no lake water is needed.

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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