Environment

Lake Okeechobee drops below 10 feet, lowest level in four years

Lake Okeechobee has fallen to a level below 10 feet above sea level for the first time since 2007.

It is just another factor that is adding to the reason why West Palm Beach through Broward County is in an "exceptional" drought.

But for now, the two-day a week watering restrictions are remaining as they are, South Florida Water Management District Division Director of Water Resources Terrie Bates said. The governing board could reconsider at a meeting next week.

One reason is that so far there has not been any salt water intrusion or increased chloride levels in coastal wells.

"The good thing is unlike in 2007 we really haven't seen substantial levels of change," Bates said. "But we continue to monitor those every week. That would be a trigger to potentially increase restrictions."

Water restrictions for farmers and nurseries remain the same.

They were ordered in March to cut back water usage by 45 percent.

At a meeting of district officials on Thursday, it was decided to have six more pumps installed at the south end of Lake Okeechobee, which fell to 9.96 feet Saturday morning, to pump water from the lake to nearby farms. Those pumps should be operating within the next week, bringing the total number of pumps to 10.

As of now there are four pumps in the lake that were installed May 27.

Next week the officials will meet again to discuss if it is necessary to install pumps in a canal in Miami.

But Bates said they are trying to refrain from putting in more pumps while they still can rely on gravity to move the water out of the lake.

"We'd prefer to do it by gravity as long as we can,"said Bates.

Of course this all depends on how much water the rainy season brings.

"If we don't have a pretty significant rainfall we're going to start next year's dry season at a lower level with greater restrictions earlier in the year because we'd be starting with a deficit," said Bates.

The rainy season, which started May 26, has been off to a slow start.

But, National Weather Service Warning Coordination Meteorologist Robert Molleda says there is a chance of having an above average amount of rainfall in the later part of the season.

However, it might be enough only to alleviate the drought, not eliminate it.

From October through May 31 West Palm Beach recorded only 10.45 inches of rain, only about 30 percent of what normal rainfall is, Molleda said.

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