"This past month was the wettest May on record and has resulted in a significant increase in levels within the water conservation areas south of Lake Okeechobee," said SFWMD Chief Engineer John Mitnik. "We are taking every step available to the District to move that local rainfall out of our flood control system in order to create capacity to take water from the lake while still protecting residents and wildlife."
The May rainfall caused Lake Okeechobee to rise more than a foot in a matter of weeks and led to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), which controls the lake, to start making releases from the lake to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries for public safety on June 1.
Even before USACE started releases, SFWMD has been maximizing discharges from all three water conservation areas south of the lake. Lowering water levels in the conservation areas will allow components of the flood control system to move water from Lake Okeechobee, subject to future rainfall, and to reduce the need for lake releases to the estuaries.
SFWMD has also used recently completed components of Gov. Rick Scott's Restoration Strategies Plan, including the A-1 and L-8 Flow Equalization basins, to store local rainfall to create capacity in the flood control system. These facilities are being fully utilized.
The District partners with numerous private landowners and uses publicly-owned lands as part of the Dispersed Water Management program to store local rainfall and water released from the lake, reducing the need for estuary discharges. SFWMD has assessed all of these projects with our partners in the Caloosahatchee, St. Lucie and Okeechobee watersheds to ensure they are storing the maximum amount of water or bringing additional water into these projects. The available storage of these projects is 54,000 acre-feet. These storage components are about 70 percent full and SFWMD will continue utilizing these projects to store water in the coming days.
SFWMD officials have also emphasized the need for our partner agencies, such as the USACE and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to coordinate actions under their authority that could help move water south of the lake and reduce the need for releases while maintaining flood protection for our communities and protection of wildlife. Requests include asking USACE to open the S-12A and B structures, controlled by USACE, to allow more water to flow out of Water Conservation Area 3A south into Everglades National Park. SFWMD is also asking USACE to raise the level of the L-29 canal, which will also allow significantly more water to be moved out of the conservation areas and into Everglades National Park.
"We understand the concerns of all our residents, including those who live along the northern estuaries affected by lake releases," said SFWMD Executive Director Ernie Marks. "Gov. Scott has made Herbert Hoover Dike rehabilitation a priority and successfully received $100 million from the Florida Legislature to expedite repairs of this federal project. There is an urgent need for the federal government to expedite the dike rehabilitation efforts and conduct a new Lake Okeechobee regulation schedule study."