Lake O levels over 17 feet; Scott renews calls for dike funding

Lee Herald Favicon 16Governor Rick Scott called for increased federal funding to repair the Herbert Hoover dike that surrounds Lake Okeechobee on Monday.

“The federal government has to do their job, they have to fund these projects,” said Scott. “The state has spent $2.1 billion on comprehensive Everglades restoration, the federal government is $900 million behind us.”

The Florida legislature approved $50 million to help expedite repairs to the dike during their last session, and politicians like Congressman Francis Rooney and Senator Bill Nelson have made appeals to President Trump on the projects behalf. The governor said that his goal is to secure the additional funds to finish the repairs by 2022, three years ahead of the project’s current projected completion date of 2025.

Hurricane Irma dropped about three and a half feet of rain on the area around the lake, which has seen a continued rise in water levels after the storm according to John Campbell, a spokesperson for the Army Corps of Engineers. The lake now sits at 17.2 feet, the highest level it has experienced since the hurricane came through. Campbell said the Corps prefers to keep the water level of the lake between 12.5 and 15.5 feet.

“I’m concerned that the water level is this high. I’m concerned that we haven’t had more money put into this,“ Scott said.

In order to relieve pressure on the dike, water is released into both the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers. The average rate of water being directed west is about 7,000 cubic feet per second which translates to about 4.5 billion gallons a day. Those freshwater discharges can disrupt delicate estuaries and cause algae blooms downstream.

The high volume of water in the lake has also caused engineers to step up inspections to stay ahead of any issues that could cause serious damage to the dike down the line.

“It has gotten high enough that we have started doing daily inspections of the southern half of the dike that surrounds the lake,” Campbell said. “This is the area where we’ve had some issues in the past. While we’re not seeing any issue that concern us right now we want to be very prudent and continue the inspections so that should pop up we would have the earliest warning time possible.”

The inspectors are generally looking for evidence of excessive seepage or erosion that could indicate additional stress on the dike. Campbell explained that water levels of 17.5 feet or above are what have triggered these types of issues in the past.

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