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Rising Lake "O" Water Levels Leads To More Water Releases

MIAMI (CBS Miami) – Water levels in Lake Okeechobee, South Florida's backup water supply, are still too high and that has the Army Corps of Engineers continuing to drain water from the lake, according to the Sun Sentinel.

It's quite a different scenario than last year when lake levels were four feet lower than they are now.

Currently, the lake level has reached 15.64 feet which is uncomfortably high for the Herbert Hoover Dike, which is considered one of the country's most at risk of failure.

The Corps' is draining water from the lake in order to ease the strain on the dike.

The lake's water levels are supposed to stay between 12.5 feet and 15.5 feet above sea level, but rains from Tropical Storm Isaac pushed the levels higher and the rainy September that followed kept the water rising.

The Army Corps considers 17.25 feet to be the maximum allowable threshold for the dike, with dike stability becoming an even greater risk if the lake tops 18 feet.

Crews have been working to strengthen the 143-mile Herbert Hoover Dike for the past five years but the work still isn't finished.

While draining some of the lake water helps protect the dike, it also wastes water relied on to back up South Florida water supplies during the typically dry winter and spring.

The process of dumping lake water out to sea can also be harmful to the environment by triggering fish-killing algae blooms in rivers, coastal estuaries and threatens fishing grounds by throwing off the mix of saltwater and freshwater.

Lake Okeechobee serves as a flood control basin, a regional water reservoir, a fishing destination for Floridians and is home to numerous plants and animals, including a number of threatened and endangered species.

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