U.S. Water News Online
MIAMI -- Water levels in one of the United States' largest
freshwater lakes dropped to a record low, after months of
lower-than-normal rainfall levels have severely affected the main
backup water supply for 5 million South Florida residents.
The South Florida Water Management District reported a record low
of 8.94 feet in Lake Okeechobee, the heart of the Everglades. The
average water level should be around 13 feet this time of year.
The region's drought is leading water managers to assess how to
best protect drinking water supplies, meet needs of the important
agriculture, fishing and tourism industries, and protect natural
"If South Florida wants to get out of a crisis situation ... we
need the lake to rise 5 feet," said Carol Ann Wehle, the district's
executive director. Record keeping on the lake's levels began in
South Florida is largely dependent on the 730-square-mile lake
during dry periods, when it can be used as a reservoir if water wells
from groundwater aquifers get too low.
Rainfall directly over the lake has been low enough to qualify the
drought as a one-in-100-year event, the district said. Just 40 inches
of rain have fallen on the region in the past 18 months, about half
the average amount, water managers said.
The wet summer season dumps an average of about 3 feet of rain in
South Florida each year, district officials said.
The dry conditions have exposed vegetation that normally sits on
the lake bottom. A 23-square-mile fire started in the dried-out
vegetation in the lake's northwest rim. The fire was 75 percent
contained, and a voluntary evacuation for a mobile home park was
The drought has forced stringent water restrictions on homes and
businesses in 13 counties, and four coastal wells were closed to
prevent saltwater contamination.
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