July 3, 2008

Lake Okeechobee Up a Foot From Last Year

By Curtis Morgan, The Miami Herald

Jul. 3--A FOOT OF WATER -- that's the difference one wetter year makes in Lake Okeechobee.

The big lake, which serves as the region's rain barrel, fell to its all-time low on this date last year, bottoming out at 8.82 feet above sea level. On Thursday, it sat at 9.85 feet, climbing by nearly a half-foot over the last week alone, thanks to steady rains over and north of the lake.

While the lake is in better shape than last year, water managers cautioned that it remains nearly four feet below its historic average. And while June got South Florida's rain season off to a solid start, rainfall can vary widely from year to year.

Still, aside from Lake Okeechobee, most aquifers, lakes and the Everglades are at normal or near normal levels across the 16 counties overseen by the South Florida Water Management District.

"For the most part, the system is in fairly good shape," said district spokesman Randy Smith. "We still have to stick with the conservation culture because we've seen how fast things can change."

The lake remains low after a nearly two-year drought and decisions by state and federal water managers to dump water after hurricanes filled the lake, raising the risk that Okeechobee's aging and leaky levee could fail.

Miami-Dade, Broward, Monroe, St. Lucie and most coastal areas of Palm Beach, Lee and Martin counties remain on twice weekly watering restrictions.

Odd numbered addresses can water on Wednesday and Saturday from 12 a.m. to 10 p.m. and/or between 4 and 11:59 p.m. Even numbered addresses can water on Thursday and Sunday during the same time periods.

For complete rules go to http://www.sfwmd.gov and click on "Water Restrictions" on the left side of the page.


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