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Near-Tragedy on Lake Okeechobee Brings Home Danger of Lowered Lake

May 1, 2019 - 9:15am
Bill Matchekowsky and the lake rescue boat
Bill Matchekowsky and the lake rescue boat

There are safety consequences to lowering the lake. The folks who know Lake Okeechobee best, who work on it and fish in it, keep telling us a deliberately lowered 10.5-foot lake is an accident waiting to happen.

On Saturday night, we found out how justified those fears were when three boys visiting from South Carolina and fishing in Lake Okeechobee, ran aground about a mile from shore.

It was about 7:30 p.m. Getting dark and scary. The boys, age 15, 15 and 12, remained in the gathering dark and finally pitch black for more than three hours, calling for help, shining a single, barely visible light toward land. Fortunately, at about 11 p.m., the boys were rescued unharmed with only a damaged boat hull.

"We saw firsthand how the (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers') aggressive push to lower the lake has already begun impacting boaters and, unfortunately, put this group of teenagers' lives at risk," said Ramon Iglesias, co-founder of Anglers for Lake Okeechobee. 

"This was not a crisis determined by Mother Nature," he said. "It was an unnecessary, man-made crisis that could have been avoided."

Ramon Iglesias
Ramon Iglesias
It was Iglesias, also general manager of Roland and Mary Ann Martin's Marina & Resort, who first spotted the boys' light offshore. "The area where they were fishing would normally be much deeper this time of year," he said, "but due to the Army Corps’ decision to bow to public pressure and make an unprecedented break from the authorized Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule, the lake is significantly lower and boaters have been faced with major navigation challenges."

What most disturbed anglers about Saturday night is, Lake Okeechobee was at 11.3 feet when the boys ran aground. Said Iglesias, "The consequences of a 10.5-foot lake would be unimaginable."

Iglesias called Bill Matchekowsky who works on the lake rescue boat, Lake/Tow Recovery.

"These boys shouldn't have been out there at all," said Matchekowsky, who told Sunshine State News he averages about 50 rescues a year. "They were underage, there were no markers in those waters. But that's what we see now, mostly tourists from out of state who haven't made a float plan, haven't communicated with anybody. They're usually running too fast. And some of them don't even know how to use a GPS," he said.

A leftover from the 2011 drought
A leftover from the 2011 drought


"Right now, except for tourists, the lake is very quiet. Floridians know what's going on and they're staying off it," explained Matchekowsky, who has "worked the lake" for nearly three decades. "A low lake means business is bad for a lot of people."

Iglesias said, despite the low lake level, the recent Roland Martin Marine Series tournament went ahead anyway. It drew 254 anglers (down from 330 in 2918). Iglesias and the tournament organizers knew where to direct them and how to keep them safe. Out-of-town anglers are less familiar with the lake, thus less predictable.

"We've had experience with the dangers and difficulties of low water," Matchekowsky said. "The 2011 drought endangered boaters and put people out of business." (See the notice above, posted in Clewiston in 2011, during what then was a naturally occurring period of low water.)

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith.


I ran aground about 6 miles from shore in Lake O yesterday because I unknowingly got out of the channel. Ruined my boat. I've been boating all my life. I've not been on a lake before that doesn't have obstacles marked. Maybe they aren't obstacles at normal lake levels. But man, that is dangerous. I am glad my family and I are ok...very dangerous

You are probably from up north no nothing about Florida or about the lake or river I was here before they dredge the river to build Disney in the meddle of a swamp check the history

It starts up river at bisney word but it’s all about money not saving the lake or river check the maps up river

I was born in okeechobee an raised on Kissimmee river the river was some what clear all year long an then they made Disney world s—-t rows down hill check the map an see where lake O is getting it’s water there not holding back the water in the marsh’s to filter in the marsh’s like they said they would when they came in an made Poeple sale there property so when you bitch about the lake get the kids an go have fun at Disney it’s all about money it all starts up river

sure, blame Disney, nice try dufus...

Too many fingers in the pie.....The 2nd largest in-land body of water in the USA , and it is being managed to hell in a handbasket. Why can't everybody get together and come up with a maximum & minimum level that will be maintained at all times? Just for the sake of argument let's say the max is 16.5 ft. and the minimum is 13.5 ft. If the lake gets deeper than 16.5 ft. you let the water out. If it gets below 13.5 ft you do not release any water. Now get all the key players to understand that this is the rule, and if it impacts them, they will have to figure out a plan to remedy their problems. Step two, stop spraying once and for all. Weeds become a problem cut them. There are presently about 125 families in Lakeport on the rim canal that have been unable to access the lake via the Lakeport Locks. Airboats and jon boats are the exception. Dredge the lock channel out to the lake or close the lock completely and save money. I have had folks that have been neighbors for ten to twenty years and they are talking about selling out or moving on.

I have no sympathy for minor children fishing on lake O! Where are the parents??? Irresponsible much?! Poor lake o- the water is low! Boo boo. Save our damn rivers! Couldn’t care less about poor lake o decreased water levels! And to the asshat blaming Trumpers - idiots as usual!

No sympathy for minor children? What kind of soulless trashbag of a broad are you?

What a bunch of idiots mother natural has taken care of lake for years . Now politicians take control and destroy everything

More TrumpNuts complaining about the corps trying to minimize the damage to their deregulation of our state waterways and septic systems. They would rather we keep it high and let it all flow out every other day during the rainy season. Hey, but to these absolute idiots, they parrot, "red tide is a naturally occurring event", like the devastation we've seen recently is anything like the red tide of us natives as kids. It's not!

You need to educate yourself Mr Truth. Back when us native kids experienced Red Tide, those septic tanks weren't leaching into our waterways. But if they had, back when us native kids experienced red tide, the natural flow of water was filtered prior to being released into our oceans.

Perhaps you need to educate yourself "Anonymous" (no wonder). SWFLMD estimates that septic tanks account for 4% of the pollutants, a drop in the bucket fool. You can thank the leaky tanks on Rick Scott and the legislature though. They deregulated the septic tank industry in FL many years ago. You used to have to have them inspected annually and the drain field pipes inspected as well every year. Not any more. Another 6% of pollutants come from cattle waste runoff. The lion share of the pollution comes from fertilizer runoff. The two biggest users of fertilizer in this state are the citrus and sugar industries at nearly 80% of usage. The other 10% is other ag industries and golf courses, etc. Now you have been educated...

When you start calling people names in your attempt to make a valid point, your ignorance becomes the focus. And your point, even if valuable, is lost.

When you start calling people names in your attempt to make a valid point, your ignorance becomes the focus. And your point, even if valuable, is lost.

Hey Truth its time that you start telling the truth because SWFWMD is an entirely different animal than SFWMD. In fact, UF experts said that septic tanks cause a much higher percentage of the pollution than 4%. You everglades hacks blame everything on agriculture and its just not true! You all will be out of control soon enough and we will be a productive state again!

Truth, your facts stink just like the crap you flush down the toilet. Where do you think your sewage goes. Please put it in a jar and put a lid on it so they can bury it with you when you die. By the way I am 60 years old and septic system have never been inspected in Florida. They are only inspected when they are installed. Liberal talking points are never fact or truth. Please educate yourself !!!!!!!!

You need to educate yourself. There’s a lot going on to keep Okeechobee at a reasonable level without flushing out the sides. A planned literally just got approved to store water north of the lake. Quit spewing your garbage.

Come on...blaming the lake level for boating stupidity. What about the parents of these minors? (I was boating solo on Lake Erie at age 12. Stayed within 200’ of shore because I knew the dangers.)

Bingo. Low water is the only thing that will save this lake. The water will come, it always does. I'll sacrifice a slow summer for the health of the lake.

Staying within 200' of shore on Lake Okeechobee puts you in only about 3' of water. Reducing the lake down to 10.5 feet means 10.5 feet above sea level, not the depth of water. Why assume boating stupidity or blaming the parents? Lowering the lake levels makes it dangerous for the most experienced fishing guide on the lake.

Yeah, we need MORE "VISIT FLORIDA" (like we need a "new ice age"... and Al Gore as a permanent Florida resident)!!!!!

Empty it and fill it in!

Yeah..That's why you remain anonymous.

His head is already empty and filled with mush.

Comments are now closed.



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