U.S. Senator Bill Nelson

Serving Florida

Senator Nelson: Lake Okeechobee water level ready to handle Hurricane Irma rain

By Jon Santucci, Treasure Coast Palm
Sep 8, 2017

VERO BEACH — U.S. Senator Bill Nelson said Lake Okeechobee and the Herbert Hoover Dike should be able to withstand any rains from Hurricane Irma.

“I want you to know that I have been assured by Col. (Jason) Kirk, the engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, that is the dike is substantially in condition to handle another three feet of water,” Nelson said Friday morning at the Indian River County Emergency Operations Center.

“The lake is down to 13 ½ feet. They can fill another three feet, which will not likely come during the storm. Mostly, maybe a foot of water during the storm. But they can easily take up to 16 ½ feet without the integrity of the dike being threatened.

“If you get on upwards of 17 feet, there could be some spillover in the Clewiston area. But they think that the dike’s integrity is still there.”

Nelson said the primary risk for spillover could come after Irma has left.

“It will be the two weeks after the storm when you get all the drainage coming south through the Kissimmee River basin flowing into Lake Okeechobee that will be the concern of the level in Lake Okeechobee,” Nelson said.

Storm surge created by hurricanes is the biggest risk to life and property during a storm. Ramon Padilla, Veronica Bravo and Jacquie Lee, USA TODAY

Although the storm has been downgraded from a category 5 to a category 4, Irma remains a major hurricane.

“There’s going to be a lot of destruction with a category 4,” Nelson said. “By the time it would get on up above Lake Okeechobee on up to Orlando it will degrade because it’s overland.  Nevertheless you’re still getting that counter-clockwise rotation, so just be prepared and if you have the evacuation order listen to the local law enforcement and obey it. If you’re ordered to evacuate you should do so.

“(As) a native Floridian, hurricanes are not something to fool with, " Nelson said."The big difference between (Hurricane) Andrew (in 1992) and now is Florida is a lot more densely populated so winds of a category 5, category 4 like there were in Andrew 25 years ago are going to be substantial. The good news is, the lesson learned from Andrew was that we didn’t have very good state building codes. We do now as a result of Andrew.”

Nelson said there will be “plenty” of funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency with the disaster relief bill, which was given approval by Congress on Friday. The $15.25 billion measure includes $7.24 billion for FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund and $7.4 billion is Community Development Block Grant funding.

“However, this funding is only going to last until mid-October, so we’re going to have to do supplemental funding after that,” Nelson said. “Remember, we’re still dealing with (Hurricane Harvey in) Texas and now were going to have Florida. And who knows, maybe Georgia, Tennessee as well.”