Lake Okeechobee Water Levels Remain Low Despite Last Month's Rains


September rainfall provided only marginal gains for water levels in Lake Okeechobee, a primary backup water supply to five million south Florida residents and the source of water for irrigation across more than 500,000 acres of farmland in the Everglades Agricultural Area. Rainfall for the entire month was slightly above average across the region, South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) officials said on Oct. 3.

As a result of the rainfall, coastal groundwater and surface water levels across nearly all of the area have improved over the past 30 days. However, water levels in most inland water bodies and monitoring wells remain at or near historic lows, as district-wide rainfall remains below average for 2007, and rainfall patterns continue to favor southeastern residential areas.

Lake Okeechobee, the largest water body in South Florida's water management system and a leading indicator of regional water supply conditions, reached an all-time record low of 8.82 feet above sea level on July 3. The Lake level registered 9.96 feet above sea level this morning, up only 0.45 feet since Sept. 1. This is 0.82 feet below its previous historic low for this date of 10.78 feet above sea level, recorded on Oct. 3, 1956.

Lake Okeechobee water levels have been setting new record daily lows for 122 consecutive days, and according to water managers, the growing disparity between current lake level readings and previous historic lows continues to suggest that South Florida may experience back-to-back water shortage years for the first time since the early 1980s.

September 2007 followed the driest August since 1987 and fourth driest on record since 1932, yielding district-wide rainfall of 7.38 inches, or about five percent above the historical average for the month. At only 36.18 inches, or 83 percent of the historical average through Monday, October 1, year-to-date average rainfall remains below normal for the 16-county region.

"South Florida remains in a severe regional water shortage, with the heart of our system -- Lake Okeechobee -- still nearly five feet below normal elevations for this time of year," said SFWMD Executive Director Carol Ann Wehle. "Absent dramatic rain events in basins north of Lake Okeechobee over the next thirty days, we will almost certainly face a more severe regional water shortage in the spring of 2008."

For more information, contact SFWMD at www.sfwmd.gov.

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