Developing a Habit of Checking Lake Okeechobee’s Level in Light of the Indian River Lagoon

My niece Evie stands at the manicured edge of the east side of Lake Okeechobee at Port Mayaca. (Photo Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch 2013)
My niece, Evie, stands at the manicured, “parking lotted” edge of the east side of Lake Okeechobee, Port Mayaca. (Photo Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch 2013)

Last year, when I was in Clewiston, I thought it was really amazing how everyone, and I mean just about everyone, was aware of the level of Lake Okeechobee. In fact, the local bank on the main drive through town had the lake level flashing on its information screen the way we in Stuart might see temperature. “LAKE OKEECHOBEE 14 FEET” FLASH, FLASH, FLASH…

Of course Clewiston is located at the southern edge of the lake, so for them it is critical to know the lake level as  they are more at risk of flooding and mayhem the higher the lake gets. In fact, according to a Palm Beach Post article last year by Christine Stapelton: “At  15.51 feet, the Corps considers the probability of a breach at about 3 percent; probability rises increasingly faster with each inch. At 16.9 feet it climbs to 10 percent. At 18 feet, to 45 percent. At 21 feet, the dike would fail, causing widespread flooding.”

We here in Stuart, are also affected by the level of lake as when it gets over 15.5 feet the Army Corp’s LORS Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule is getting close or telling them to  “dump” to the estuaries. So if one is watching the “writing is on the wall.” There is no need to be surprised when news comes of the dumping if we’re paying attention….

In a perfect world, residents of Martin County would check and know the level of Lake Okeechobee. Last year I asked my husband if he would consider putting a flashing sign of the lake level on his office building on East Ocean. He smirked, laughed out loud but didn’t say “no,” so I am still waiting.

In the meantime, the easier way to check Lake Okeechobee’s level, to see if it is nearing “dump level”, is to go to the Army Corp of Engineers’ Lake Okeechobee web site: (

Today the lake is at 13.3, below 15.5. Although this level seems “good” for  Martin County, it is actually only  a few tenths away from where it was last year at this time. If a huge tropical storm or rain event came it could easily increase the level of the lake  by three to four feet. This has happened many times.

So why isn’t the lake lower? Why don’t “they” let it drain to the Everglades now? Well obviously there are other interests than just “ours.” Agriculture in the EAA likes to insure that there is enough water in the lake, because they know that  just as quickly as a  storm could fill the lake, drought could ensure, and not only would the agriculture community be lacking needed water for crops but some of the utilities on the southeast coast may go short on drinking water.  For the wildlife agencies, they are cognizant of  the need of water, but not too much, for wildlife to survive, especially birds and fish.

It is a delicate balance that really Mother Nature and God should be working out but since the mid 1900s “we” have really completely taken over, or so we think…

So let’s be aware of the “bigger picture” and know how we fit into that picture, and in the meanwhile, get into the habit of regularly checking the lake level. Also take time to write your legislators and insist that more water flow south and be stored, and that Kissimmee River be fully restored to hold more water in its flood plain. If they say, “there’s no place to store or clean the water, and there’s no money,” tell them nicely to “figure it out…”and remind them of the great things this county has done in its past.

And last, if you see my husband around town, would you please ask him if he is ever going to put up the electronic sign outside at his office? I’d appreciate it!

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