September 30, 2014

Environment

Portrait of a Broken Lake

Forget the drought. Lake Okeechobee’s problem is too much water, not too little. Fixing it will cost as much as the multibillion-dollar plan to replumb the Everglades south of the lake.

Mike Vogel | 9/1/2007

Click photo to enlarge. [Photo: Joseph Melanson / Skypic]

We’re all familiar with the Everglades restoration program — produced after years of litigation, study and debate by environmentalists, government and industry and finally signed into law in 2000. Originally pegged at $8 billion, the cost for the largest environmental restoration project in U.S. history has grown to $10.1 billion and could run billions of dollars more.

But it turns out that the plan largely overlooked a massive piece without which it can’t succeed — 730-square-mile Lake Okeechobee and the region stretching northward all the way to Orlando International Airport.

Listen as Mike Vogel shares the 6,000 year old lake's history. All is not perfect after man came.
Click here.
Oddly enough, in a year that has seen the lake suffer such a drought that it shrunk to 450 square miles and the exposed lake bed caught fire, Lake Okeechobee’s problem is actually too much water — and too much phosphorus — pouring in from dairy farms, ranches and developments north of the lake. Water managers now realize that cleaning up the flow south of the lake won’t work without addressing upstream as well.

Fixing the oversight will be just as monumental a task, involving as large an area and potentially as much money as replumbing southern Florida for the Everglades.

“It became very clear that there was a big hole in the Everglades restoration program,” says Carol Ann Wehle, executive director of the regional water manager, the South Florida Water Management District. “We’re never going to restore the Everglades if we don’t get the water coming into the system right.”

Tags: North Central, Environment

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