October 1, 2013 at 6:01 pm #602MikeKeymaster
I’m out of the loop for a few more days but I’m sending this from
Sigrid in Florida. This article can be verified at Palm Beach Post
Newspaper; on line.
I can barely wait to get back to “our work”
Best to all
Hurricanes flood Lake Okeechobee, experts fear long-term problems
By CORALIE CARLSON
Associated Press Writer
ON THE WATERS OF LAKE OKEECHOBEE, Fla. — Standing on an airboat,
state biologist Donald Fox surveyed the dying bare stalks peeking
out of the coffee-brown lake water.
This past summer, Fox said, the vegetation here was so lush and
thick it could conceal a boat of duck hunters — the result of four
years of intense conservation efforts. But four hurricanes in six
weeks shredded the plants, left the water several feet too high and
chased off small wading birds, who need shallow water to forage for
“Basically, we’re back to square one,” Fox said. “It was very
Lake Okeechobee felt the effects of all four hurricanes that swept
over Florida in August and September. The lake took direct hits from
Frances and Jeanne, a near hit from Charley, which drenched the
Kissimmee basin that drains into the lake, and was soaked again by
the remnants of Ivan.
The same winds and rain that left at least 83 people dead in Florida
and caused an estimated $18 billion in insured losses ravaged the
lake. Winds at least 79 mph and devastating storm surges left the
shoreline littered with carcasses of alligators, fish and birds.
The storms also flooded the lake’s tributaries, which caused the
lake level to rise about a foot a week from 12.8 feet before
Charley, which hit southwestern Florida on Aug. 13, to a crest of
just over 18 feet.
The lake, the second largest freshwater lake within the contiguous
United States behind Lake Michigan, is critical to the health of the
Everglades and is commonly known as the state’s “liquid heart.”
The combined effect of flooding and other damage could wipe out an
entire generation of the lake’s prized game fish — black crappie and
large mouth bass, Fox said. Sport fishing brings in $100 million
annually to the economically depressed area.
“The worst thing that can happen for the environment in this area is
what happened,” said David Bogardus, a field officer for the World
Lake Okeechobee is surrounded by the 143-mile Herbert Hoover dike.
The earthen dike, standing up to 45 feet high, was built in the
1950s in part to prevent another disaster such as the 1928
hurricane, when flooding and storm surge from the lake killed more
than 2,000 people.
But the dike also prevents the lake from expanding into its natural
flood plain. Instead, the water level rises, drowning plants that
provide a habitat for fish and stabilize the lake bottom.
The lake was intentionally kept at a higher level, around 16 feet,
throughout most of the 1990s because it was used for flood control
and a backup water supply for heavily populated southeastern Florida.
That killed much of the bulrush, hydrilla, eelgrass and other
plants, to the detriment of the game fish. After four years of
conservation efforts — which began with lowering of the lake level —
the plants were recovering.
“It’s kind of like building a pasture,” Fox said. “You put the grass
on it before you put the cows on it.”
As a result, the fish and bird populations were rebounding,
including endangered species such as the snail kite bird.
“Things were just getting perfect,” Fox said.
Then the hurricanes hit, and the water level rose again. The storms
also churned up sediment and phosphorus on the lake bottom, which
makes the water a thick muddy brown and blocks light to vegetation
Many plants were ripped up and left in the lake to rot. In some
areas, the plants are decomposing underwater. The air smells of
methane, like a dairy barn, and the water is thick like stew.
No plants or animals that need oxygen can live there, Fox said, and
it could take months or years to recover.
State and federal officials are working to lower the water level by
releasing water through the lake’s only two outlets — east to the
Atlantic Ocean and west to the Gulf of Mexico.
At its peak, the lake was taking in 40,000 cubic feet of water per
second, said Susan Sylvester, water management technical specialist
for the Army Corps of Engineers. That would fill an Olympic-sized
swimming pool in about three seconds.
The lake can only drain about 15,000 cubic feet of water per second,
she said. Recently water managers have been able to release more
water than was coming in, Sylvester said. “We feel like we’re
But it’s a delicate balance. They can’t release too much water at
once, because that could damage the lake’s two outlets by skewing
the salt-water to freshwater ratio of the two estuaries, the
Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.
Sylvester said she expected the lake to return to a healthy level —
between 13.5 feet and 15.5 feet — by spring, although the predicted
wet winter could stymie those plans.
State and federal officials are trying to solve the lake’s flooding
problem by building reservoirs so they have places to put water
other than Lake Okeechobee.
Earlier this month, Gov. Jeb Bush announced he would expedite a $1
billion plan to build three reservoirs. The reservoirs are part of
the $8.4 billion Everglades restoration plan.
The reservoirs would hold enough water to fill about 6 million
backyard pools, said Ernie Barnett, director of ecosystem projects
at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The first
reservoir would be ready in 2009 and the last in 2011.
“The only short term solution is to build the long term solutions
quicker,” Barnett said.
The World Wildlife Fund working with local cattle ranchers to find
other solutions. They’re studying whether it would be cost effective
to pay ranchers to store water on their land.
That would also restore some of the natural water movement, which
has been altered by canals and dikes, said Sarah Lynch, senior
program officer at the World Wildlife Fund in Washington, D.C.
Meanwhile, Fox had to leave the lake to find the small wading birds,
which were crowding a ditch off the Okee-Tantie Marina, on the north
side of the lake. They had found water shallow enough to forage for
Over time, the birds will fly farther and farther away looking for a
suitable habitat, he said. “The water’s got to go down.”
The forum ‘Strange Animal Deaths’ is closed to new topics and replies.