Lake Okeechobee's Low Water Levels Cause Concern

By Jan Wesner Childs

At a Glance

The levels are approaching those seen in Florida's 2011 drought.The lake serves as a key indicator of drought throughout the region. Last year, releases from the lake coincided with a massive red tide outbreak.

Lake Okeechobee's water levels have dropped to an alarmingly low level as Florida enters its dry season, prompting concerns that other waterways could be affected.

The lake's water is almost as low as it was eight years ago during Florida's worst drought in nearly a century, the Miami Herald reported.

"I’m a bit concerned about the lake level – we are right about where we were in 2011," U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Col. Andrew Kelly said in a recent phone call with reporters, according to the Herald.

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South Florida's rainy season was drier than usual this year, and the lake serves as an indicator of drought throughout the region. It's also a key source of drinking and irrigation water for South Florida.

Kelly said there were worries over whether the Corps would be able to continue water releases into the Caloosahatchee Estuary, which relies on freshwater input from the lake to maintain its salt-to-freshwater ratio during the dry season, when there is less rain.

"We started down a path of potentially stopping releases to the Caloosahatchee but then decided to try to maintain them as best as we can," Kelly said in the phone call. "I want consistency."

The Corps regulates discharges from Lake O through a series of locks and dams. The process has come under for fire decades as the discharges impact connecting waterways. Releases of nutrient-rich water from the lake, for example, have resulted in algae blooms and fish kills in the Caloosahatchee, the Herald reported.

Last year, releases from the lake coincided with a massive red tide outbreak along Florida's Gulf Coast that killed scores of fish, manatees and sea turtles.

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.


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