Summer rainfall migrated slowly down the Kissimmee River floodplain, feeding Lake Okeechobee through the dry season. The lake was a third larger than it is today.
In the rainy season, the saucer-shaped lake overflowed and deposited nutrients to its south, building a band of rich organic soil. Water spilling south of the lake became the “River of Grass” and flowed on to Florida Bay.
[Maps courtesy of SFWMD]
The Herbert Hoover Dike shrunk the lake and trapped the nutrient-rich muck inside. Meanwhile, the canal-ization of the Kissimmee River accelerated the flow of water and nutrients into the lake.
The Everglades is now half its original size, but the lake takes in as much water as it did before. Just releasing the water, however, puts too much water and nutrients into the Everglades and estuaries. Leaving high water levels in the lake isn’t an option, either. That harms the lake’s ecology, and the dike’s condition means the lake can’t hold what it used to, anyway.