Lake Okeechobee slowly receding

Water continues to flow in from the north

Posted 2/29/24

Concerned about already an already high lake level approaching the Florida “wet” season …

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Lake Okeechobee slowly receding

Water continues to flow in from the north


OKEECHOBEE – Concerned about already an already high lake level approaching the Florida “wet” season, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started releasing more water east to the St. Lucie and west to the Caloosahatchee River on Feb. 17.

So why is the lake level still above 16 feet?

For the week of Feb. 19-25, South Florida Water Management District data shows flow from the north added 63,440 acre feet of water to the Big O, and direct rainfall contributed 3,320 acre feet,

The  U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and SFWMD are working on a plan to hold water higher in the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes at the end of the wet season in order to have water supply for the restored portion of the river in the dry season. It takes a flow of around 1,400 cubic feet per second to hyrdrate the restored portion of the river. However,  this year they had to lower the water level in Lake Kissimmee in order to repair water control structures. That work is expected to take several months, so if there is rain in that basin, the water will be released down the Kissimmee  River into Lake O.

Outflow for the week included 69,770 acre feet (to the Caloosahatchee River), 48,400 acre feet east (to St. Lucie and Lake Worth Lagoon), 5,340 acre feet south and 40,390 acre feet removed via evapotranspiration (an combination of evaporation and plant transpiration).

That’s an inflow of 66,760 acre feet and an outflow of 165,900 acre feet for a difference of 97,140 acre feet.

The difference left the lake at 16.24 feet above sea level.

Lake Okeechobee has a surface area of 730 square miles or about 468,000 acres.

 Lake O has been high since floodwaters from Hurricane Ian were pumped down the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes into the Big O to prevent homes in Orlando/Kissimmee from flooding. After the storm passed, the lake rose several feet. For the rest of 2022 and all of 2023, the lake stayed high as USACE prioritized the health of the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries and limited freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee to the beneficial flow the lake requires in the dry season.

Instead of following the release schedule in the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule of 2008 (LORS-08), USACE opted to “bank” an extra 2 feet of water in Lake Okeechobee. They hoped the lake would start receding during the 2023-2024 “dry season.” However, due to above average rainfall, the lake has stayed at or above 16 feet.

Meanwhile, south of the lake, rainfall in the Everglades Agricultural Area has meant the farmers are using less lake water for crop irrigation.  The water conservation areas have also experienced heavy rainfall, keeping them above schedule. The available water control structures that allow water to pass under the Tamiami Trail are open, but just don’t have the capacity to move more water.   

Lake Okeechobee