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Nancy Smith

Flood Protection in the Glades: One Canal Is Already Higher than Lake O

June 8, 2017 - 8:00am

As South Florida experienced torrential rain Wednesday, with more promised through the weekend, folks in communities east, west and south of Lake Okeechobee nervously watched the big lake rise.

Coastal residents who last year experienced lake discharges that sickened rivers and estuaries with algal blooms and green goop -- 200 billion gallons of water discharged from the big lake into the St. Lucie estuary alone -- are understandably jumpy. 2016 was an unusually, horrifyingly wet year.

"I used to enjoy a good storm," Stuart shopkeeper Grace Hotchkiss told Sunshine State News Wednesday. "Not anymore. I have too many bad memories from a year ago." 

I Beg to Differ

In the drought conditions of a week ago, the lake was under 10 feet. By Wednesday, rains had pushed it back up to 11.2 feet. Which means there's still breathing room in Lake O. For now. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is unlikely to open the lock gates until the lake level reaches 15-foot-6.

But something else has begun to happen. In some easily flooded areas, canals have risen farther above sea level than the lake.

Have a look at the water levels chart at the bottom of this story, showing DBHydro's figures from 6 p.m. Wednesday. What the water table shows are inflows to Lake Okeechobee from the Martin County side -- the St. Lucie Canal -- because the lake level is lower than the canal water flowing in the from the east. The data point showing this is -8432 under “Lake to Canal” in the water table below. 

During periods of discharges, this number would be positive, but because the water is flowing INTO Lake Okeechobee, it shows as negative.

I mention this now because last year, so many of us in the media got it wrong. We followed the Sierra Club's egregious lead like sheep, claiming as they did in an NBC2 story that farmers were backpumping polluted storm water into the lake to save their flooded crops.

According to the Sierra Club, sugar farmers were creating an "ecological disaster." Meanwhile, the media missed the 1 million-plus acre feet of nutrient-laden runoff communities as far north as Orlando were adding to the lake. 

The point is, backpumping could happen again this year if, God forbid, conditions approach the emergency levels they did last year. 

The point is, 1) farmers have no say in the decision to backpump, 2) they have no authority to turn on the pumps themselves and 3) the South Florida Water Management District, the agency in charge of flood control, isn't the least bit interested in keeping agricultural fields dry -- they backpump when communities -- people -- south of Lake Okeechobee are flooded.

One of the District's most important jobs is keeping people safe. 

Last year, with Belle Glade and nearby communities facing potentially dramatic flooding, water managers used two pumps on the south side of Lake Okeechobee to reduce water levels in the adjacent canals, preventing significant urban flooding. 

"Though rare in frequency," says district spokesman Randy Smith, "the back-pumping efforts have protected Glades families for decades."

The bottom line: SFWMD has a plan for where floodwaters in all 16 of its counties go. In Martin and Lee counties, the water is sent east and west to tide. In the Glades, it's pumped into the lake. That's the plan for Belle Glade, Pahokee and South Bay.

Last year, I followed the herd and wrote a Sierra Club-style story  I had to correct and apologize for

This year I want people to understand farmers have no say in when pumps are turned on or how long they stay on. Their fields, meanwhile, are at the mercy of Mother Nature.

But Glades residents living within urban boundaries have a right to the same flood protections as people living in Stuart, Fort Pierce, Fort Myers, Wellington, Plantation or anywhere else in South Florida.

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


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Pure propaganda right here. Nothing new from Nancy Smith. Just another out of state paid soldier.

Pure Truth, The SFWMD does set the pumping regulation schedule, and the urban runoff is 10x worse than anything coming off of the farms. There was five times the fertiizer sold in Florida to the Commercial/Residental sector than the agriculture sector.

"Shades of Johnstown, PA flood"...Begin building an ARK ! HURRY !

Getting rid of SFWMD would be a decent beginning, but the management should be turned over to the Army Corp of Engineers!

Really?? The army corps would have to do a 400,000 dollar study,on weather to open a lock.they strangle them selves,and anybody working with them, in red tape beauracracy

Sierra Club had it right. And you have it wrong above. EAA farmers pump their drainage into public canals. When those canals rise to flood stage and the public pumps at the south end of canals cannot pump enough, SFWMD backpumps into Lake O. Backpumping has nothing to do with Glades towns, except that EAA farmers would flood them if SFWMD did not act. The entire SFWMD system is managed for perfect irrigation and perfect drainage for EAA. Everything else revolves around that. I have a powerpoint made from SFMWD data that shows how one inch of rain on EAA during dry season (when fields are perfectly irrigated) can cause a 5-7 day flood emergency for towns, by flooding public canals and forcing maximum flood control. 'You think anywhere else in S Fla has this level of flood protection/drainage?

Your just an example of a modern day snowflake who will follow the herd and listen to the lies that are told instead of find the truth the farmers dont control the pumps and u don't care about us who live in the glades

With President Trump pulling out of the harmful Paris Accord, there will be more Federal money available to handle our local flooding problems here in Florida. I'm sure Governor Scott and Senator Rubio are working with President Trump and the Congress to get some of that U.S. money no longer needed to fund the global green money-grab hole called the "Green Fund" reallocated to various states including Florida where the additional resource is needed to combat the affects of water and air pollution and rising seas issues here at home. Thank you President Trump for looking out for Americans first!

Lake O water level this year got just barely below 11 feet, not below 10 feet as stated. Reverse flows (back-flows) into Lake O from the St. Lucie are not uncommon at lake water levels below 12 feet. No big deal. The lake water level is absolutely perfect for this time of year -- could not be any better. Getting up to 14 feet by November would be nice. Getting up above 15 feet by then would be great.

It's a swamp for crying out loud!

AMEN! If you live in OR near a swamp......Expect to get wet. Additionally, remember that any mechanism designed to mitigate or protect from flooding can be and will someday be exceeded.

Comments are now closed.

nancy smith

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