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Lake Okeechobee Levels Concerning Nearby Residents

CANAL POINTE (CBS4) - The people in the small town of Canal Pointe are keeping a wary eye on Lake Okeechobee.

The entire town is right next to the dike holding the lake back.

"I think they got the lake level too high!" explained David McAlister who lives at the base of the dike.

The lake is very full after record rainfall.

"What are your concerns?" CBS 4's Ted Scouten asked McAlister's wife Nancy.

"That it'll leak then it will break," she said. "Then it will flood everything out."

Crews have been working on the Herbert Hoover Dike.  Right now the lake is just over 16 feet, creeping up to critical levels. Despite open flood gates, it's not going down and we're approaching the height of storm season.

"Right now we're not making any progress in lowering the lake," said John Campbell of the Army Corp of Engineers. "We're merely slowing the rise of the lake.  There's still more water coming into the lake today than we are able to discharge."

The 80 year old dike around the lake is already old and stressed.  A tropical storm could fill the lake more putting even more pressure on the levee. That's why crews are working to strengthen it, like inserting a concrete wall.

"It's a concrete barrier that's installed in the dike itself," said Campbell as he pointed to an exposed part to two foot wide wall.  "The intent is to prevent water from going through the dike that would cause erosion which could potentially cause failure."

So far, more than 21 miles of concrete wall have been implanted into the dike from Port Mayaca to Belle Glade. Engineers are deciding what to do with the remaining 122 miles of shoreline.

Meanwhile, nearly 30 culverts are being replaced.  These old drainpipes were built back in the 1930's to get water from the lake to farmers.  Aside from being narrow parts of the levee, they're so old and poorly built that water get around the decaying pipes and eat away at the dike from the inside out.

"All that erosion over time has taken a toll and certainly is an increased risk of failure at that point," said Campbell

The new culverts are modern, secure, concrete tunnels that can withstand storms and high water.  For people who live nearby, any improvements will help their peace of mind.

"If it ever happened," said Rosa Burgos who lives next to the dike. "We pretty much won't have anything, because this is like, our only home."

The Army Corps of Engineers will continue that maximum capacity release of water 24/7 for the foreseeable future.  The goal is to get the lake level down by about a half a foot as quickly as possible.

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