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Lake Okeechobee reaches record low


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Lake Okeechobee reaches record low

BY MARTIN MERZER

It's confirmed: Florida's deepening drought has dehydrated Lake Okeechobee to a record low.

 

The lake officially stood at 8.97 feet above sea level early Wednesday, matching its lowest level since record-keeping began in 1931. Then, it didn't rain again, and the sun evaporated water from the lake again.

 

''We know we're sitting at a new record low,'' Randy Smith, a spokesman for the South Florida Water Management District, said Wednesday evening, ``but how much of a record low, we won't know until the morning.''

 

The most severe water restrictions in South Florida history already are in effect and are expected to continue well into the summer rainy season.

 

Those lawn-crunching, plant-shriveling measures reduced water use by 25 to 30 percent, Smith said, but nature provided precious little assistance.

 

An average of just seven inches of rain has fallen across the region during the last five months, according to district gauges, well below normal.

 

''There's nothing coming back in,'' Smith said. ``There's just no recharge whatsoever.''

 

Lake Okeechobee serves as the primary backup water supply for millions of South Floridians. But when the lake drops below a certain level, its waters cannot be used to replenish the regional supply.

 

Experts said above-average rainfall will be required for months -- and maybe years -- to return regional water supplies to normal.

 

''Water managers anticipated for many months that scarce rainfall across South Florida would bring new record lows,'' Carol Ann Wehle, the district's executive director, said in an official statement.

 

''We are preparing for continued dry conditions and using all available emergency measures to protect drinking water supplies, meet the needs of our farmers and safeguard the environment, but the regional impacts of a drought are extreme and far-reaching,'' she said.

 

Forecasters said significant rain could moisten parts of the region Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but only stray showers are expected today.

 

''The forecast is not very encouraging,'' Smith said. ``And we need the rain to fall on the right place.''

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Some areas along the Kissimmee reported rain, but most of the stations I have access to do not report any more than the current day. Any of the rain in the Kissimmee would have to flow southward before we see any change in the levels. The 11:00 pm reading for the lake last night showed a drop in the levels once again. Now down to 8.96 ft.

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The reason the lake is at record lows isn't even a record drought, its b/c the Water management district drained alot of water last hurricane season to accomodate for the record # of hurricanes that were supposed to come but never did. Basically for flood control but the expected rain never came so now you have a shortage even though it seems to be raining often.

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The reason the lake is at record lows isn't even a record drought, its b/c the Water management district drained alot of water last hurricane season to accomodate for the record # of hurricanes that were supposed to come but never did. Basically for flood control but the expected rain never came so now you have a shortage even though it seems to be raining often.

There were several other reasons for dropping the levels as well. For years, the lake's level has been kept quite high. In an effort to promote the growth of grasses in certain areas along the historical shore of the lake for the purpose of improving environmental conditions, and to ease the vast erosion problems they have been experiencing with the earthen levies, massive pulse releases of lake water were conducted for 2 years running. Dozens of lawsuits are now on the books as a result of dumping so much fresh water into the delicate coastal fishing grounds.

 

The plain fact is, water managers expected the levels to come back up a bit, but were blindsided by an unexpected drought.

 

It doesn't bother me so much that the weather people keep mentioning the lake's low levels, but the idea that they never even hint that it has happened more as a result of management rather than nature drives me crazy.

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Its actually a good thing that the lake is this low right now because all the cleanup crews are taking advantage of the low levels to remove the waste that has built up in the lake bed and replacing it with sand.

 

Plus they have found dozens of archaeological sites that have been under the water for years and years and are taking advantage of it now.

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