Searching through articles post-Hurricane Matthew has yielded a host of concerns for the entire Eastern USA Seaboard – the area that was pummeled by the storm last week. Since much of what we have discussed regarding Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs) has focused on Southeast FL in general, and Lake Okeechobee (Lake O) in particular, let’s keep the conversation there for today.
And it is a messy matter, indeed.
Evergladeshub.com is a superb resource for all things Lake O and, truly, the issues facing Southeast Florida. As always, at the very foundation of HABs rests an overabundance of phosphorus.
What will be done is this: to keep Lake O from flooding surrounding areas – which is always a distinct possibility, whenever the lake rises to 15 feet or so — nearly 2 billion gallons of water per day will be drained. With no set timetable for ending. It depends on how much rain continues to fall. And how dry the upcoming dry season of October, November and December really is.
All that said, for perspective, an area as large as roughly 1800 football fields, with 10′ deep water, would hold close to 2 billion gallons.
HABs in Southeast Florida will again make their presence known in 2017. And excessive phosphorus is the reason.
Within hours, Hurricane Matthew will smash its Category 4 chaos on the narrow, flat peninsula that is the State of Florida. And here I sit, safe from this destructive powerhouse about which many in my area remain blissfully unaware; writing from my porch in tiny West Bend, WI. Despite this distance, what I know from research is that, while the evacuation of humans from the highest-risk areas may prove effective in saving lives, in every other way Florida cannot possibly be ready for this.
The deadliest hurricane on record happened in Galveston, TX, in 1900. That hurricane? Category 4. To add perspective, Hurricane Katrina — infamous for its horrific explosion on the City of New Orleans — was Category 3.
The only Category 5 hurricane to hit the USA was Andrew, in 1992. Fortunately for Florida, Andrew did not dump loads of rain. Why? Because the dikes holding back Lake Okeechobee can handle heavy winds and fallen trees. Excessive amounts of rainfall? Not so much.
According to Lloyds Emerging Risk Team, Southest Florida’s Lake Okeechobee – roughly the size of Rhode Island — is the second most hurricane-vulnerable place in the United States, right behind New Orleans. Eventually, the Lake’s dikes can contain only so much water.
“Okeechobee water levels continue at almost record highs after an extremely wet summer and fall. The current water level on Lake Okeechobee as of September 25, 2016 is 15.66 ft. NGVD, just over a foot higher than last year. The lake level has increased almost a foot within the last month.”
Hurricane Matthew will drop at least 7″ of rain into the Lake, causing a rise of perhaps 2-feet. It is possible Matthew will pour 10″ or more — and that could create as much as a 3-foot rise.
Parts of the Herbert Hoover Dike that surrounds Lake Okeechobee start to become vulnerable at 17.5 feet, Campbell noted.
“Certainly our concern all year is what happens if we get a lot of precipitation and the lake level rises,” Campbell said. “A (rise over 17 feet) would take us to areas where historically we’ve had some challenges and it’s certainly something we’d like to avoid.”
An unfortunate byproduct of Hurricane Matthew may be that the historic HABs (Harmful Algae Blooms) of 2016, which wiped out most of Southeast Florida’s Gold Coast tourist season, will repeat themselves in 2017. Hundreds of millions in tourist dollars will again be at stake.
For area businesses who rely on tourist trade, this loss of income would clearly be devastating.
That said, if Matthew causes a breech to a significant piece of the Lake Okeechobee dike — and this possibility is at present razor-thin close — Southeast Florida will be looking at a disaster reminiscent to what we saw in New Orleans, with Hurricane Katrina.
By getting well below cloud level, drones allow scientists to monitor HAB activity with incredible precision and photo clarity.
In the scientific battle to understand and ultimately take control of HABs, such technology-aided information is incredibly valuable. And, according to geology professor Joe Ortiz of Kent State University, the time has come: “I actually think the future is now,” Mr. Ortiz said. “We’re going to be seeing this within the next couple of years. Stay tuned for that.”