Heavy rainfall is Hurricane Irma’s biggest threat to dike along Lake Okeechobee

The Herbert Hoover Dike along Lake Okeechobee
The Herbert Hoover Dike along Lake Okeechobee

Gov. Rick Scott said the state “does not have major concerns” about the stability of the 143-mile earthen dike along Lake Okeechobee, but as Hurricane Irma approaches Florida, the greatest risk is “too much rain.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported Wednesday that if Irma produces eight to 10 inches of rainfall as a Category 3 Hurricane, the region around the dike will face a “low risk” of flooding.

Speaking at a press conference in Hialeah, Scott said government officials have taken precautionary action to lower water levels in the lake and in the surrounding canals.

The lake water level, now 13.6 feet, previously has risen to 18 feet “without anything happening,” the governor said.

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Inspections of the aging Herbert Hoover Dike are ongoing, he said, and the Army Corps of Engineers will intensify its inspections of the dike if the lake water level rises to 17 feet.

To keep the water level down, the Army Corps of Engineers discharged water into estuaries east and west of Lake Okeechobee from Tuesday through Friday.

Laureen Borachaner, chief of engineering for the Army Corps of Engineers, said in a conference call with journalists that for every foot of rain that falls on surrounding communities, the lake gradually will rise to three feet.

Lake Okeechobee currently is in a “low-risk condition,” Borachaner said, but if Hurricane Irma hits Florida as a Category 4 or Category 5 hurricane, the lake would pose a greater risk of flooding. [Miami Herald] – Mike Seemuth