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Lake Okeechobee

Lake Okeechobee is located in central southern Florida, north of the Everglades and south of Orlando. Lake Okeechobee links the Atlantic and Gulf sides of Florida via the Port Mayaca Lock on the east side of the lake and the Moore Haven Lock on the lake’s western side. Drainage canals lower the lake and drain adjacent lands for farming. Agricultural activities around the Lake Okeechobee area include cattle ranching, dairy farming, and crop production of sugarcane, winter vegetables, citrus, sod, sweet corn and rice.

Lake Okeechobee, Seminole for "big water", covers about 700 mi2. It is the second largest freshwater lake contained entirely within the lower 48 states. Lake Okeechobee is a shallow water body with average depths of about 10 feet and maximum depths less than 20 feet. Recharge of the lake comes from rainfall and the Kissimmee River to the north.

South Florida's climate is subtropical and humid. Average annual rainfall in South Florida is between 40 to 65-inches. More than half of the rainfall occurs in the wet season, which is June through September. Historically, rainfall from the Kissimmee Valley filled the Lake during the summer rainy season and excess water spilled out along its southern shore. Some of the waters were absorbed into the soil, converting decaying plant materials into rich, fertile mucky soils; the rest were released to the beginning flows of the Everglade’s "River of Grass". Shallow waters a few inches to a few feet in depth and over 50 miles wide, slowly flowed 100 miles south to the Gulf of Mexico and Florida Bay.

In 1926 and 1928, hurricane waters destroyed the dikes on the lake’s southern edge which resulted in thousands of deaths. Canals and levees were built and Lake Okeechobee was developed for use as a reservoir. Today, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District direct the waters via dikes, canals and floodgates in order to protect against flooding, to prevent saltwater intrusion, and to provide water for agricultural irrigation and drinking water supplies to large urban areas in South Florida. These water management activities have greatly encumbered the water flow from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades. Instead of alternating wet and dry seasons, which provided steady sheets of water, the Everglades now receive times of drought or powerful discharges of water.

Drive east with us along State Road 70 to Lake Okeechobee. Along the way, we'll stop to see some of the agricultural activities of the area. Once there, we'll see the Herbert Hoover Dike that surrounds the lake and some of the water control structures that are being used to direct Lake Okeechobee's waters.

Information provided by USGS - South Florida Information Access

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