Thursday, January 15, 2015

Lake Okeechobee water level is rising

The Lake Okeechobee water level is nearly 15'. Christine Stapleton from the Palm Beach Post has this report:
The Army Corps of Engineer opened the spillway gates at the St. Lucie Lock & Dam today to lower levels of runoff from the St. Lucie Canal.

Although the releases mean polluted water will again be dumped into the St. Lucie Estuary, which was damaged in 2013 by releases caused by heavy rains, no water is currently being dumped from Lake Okeechobee in the canal or estuary at this time.

The lake now stands at 14.98 feet, nearly a foot higher than this time last year.
As the lake rises, so does the Corps’ concern for the aging, earthen dike around the lake and the safety of communities on the lake’s shore.
The water level of Lake Okeechobee is of great concern to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Lake Okeechobee is not a natural lake. The lake was formed by the Herbert Hoover Dike

Lloyds of London, one of the oldest and most respected insurers, issued this report about the Herbert Hoover Dike. 

From the report:
In their Expert Review Panel Report, prepared for the South Florida Water Management District in 2006, Bromwell, Dean and Vick describe the basic problem facing the dyke to be “simple”. They say:

“Certain geologic formations that underlie the dyke, and portions of the material that comprise it, bear a striking resemblance to Swiss cheese. Laced with interconnected voids and open channels, not only do these materials conduct large flows of water, they also admit sand and silt-sized soil particles that comprise the bulk of the dyke and its foundation. In a process of unstable feedback called internal erosion or piping, this seepage causes more particles to be removed, which in turn causes more seepage. Eventually, either excessive water pressures cause the dyke slopes to fail, or the dyke simply collapses from the net effect of particle removal one grain at a time. Herbert Hoover Dike has narrowly escaped failure from this process on several occasions and we suspect that its condition may be worsening.
And it is also important to note that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will not certify the Herbert Hoover Dike. 

“The dike is much safer today than it was 10 years ago,” replied Mr. Burch [Scott Burch, chief of the Geotech Branch in Jacksonville District’s Engineering Division], but he added that there is still approximately 120 miles of the dike wall that is not safe should the water levels become high enough. “We are in a better position, but there are still risks that we need to prepare for,” he said.

Marcos Montes de Oca, public works director for the city of Belle Glade, questioned that even though the dike may be safer, FEMA has not certified it. 
Lt. Col. Greco stated that FEMA will not certify the dike until all of the work is completed. Mr. Scott added that the Corps is trying to work with Washington to certify the areas that are completed instead of waiting for the entire 143-mile project’s completion.
If the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decides that water releases are necessary, then I trust they have the information to make that call. If it comes to risking the failure of the Herbert Hoover Dike or releasing water into the estuaries, then the dike obviously takes precedence. Water releases are the responsibility of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Not many people would want Lieutenant Colonel Thomas M. Greco's job.