Lake Okeechobee water level drops to lowest in four years

People, wildlife sparring over same water

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fl. - It has been an extremely slow start to the rainy season in South Florida. The lack of rain has led to the lowest water levels at Lake Okeechobee in four years. With no substantial rains ahead, there does not seem to be enough water to go around. It is not just people dealing with near record low water levels.

"It's going to be worse for them. No two ways about it," said Jim Joseph, who for more than a decade has been fishing on Lake Okeechobee. The boat that he loves to use was expensive. Now, his boat is broken. The propeller and the gears were ripped off on Sunday afternoon. Joseph had no idea how shallow the water was, until he hit rock bottom.

It is not just boaters who are being impacted by Okeechobee's lowest levels in four years, which are now below ten feet.

There is only so much water for everyone who needs it. Water managers are planning to pump more water out of the lake and down into canals to help farmers irrigate their crops nearby. The plan has some detractors.

"It kind of robs Peter to pay Paul. You benefit someone, you hurt someone else," said Dr. Paul Gray, with the Audubon of Florida. Gray said that the South Florida Water Management District's plan to being pumping more water out of the lake to help farmers is not a good idea at the present time.  Gray believes that dropping the water levels any more will hurt certain species, specifically the Everglade Snail Kite, a bird that depends on the shrinking population of apple snails for food. "I hope that, the farmers hope that, the water management district hopes that. We all need rain," he said.

The South Florida Water Management District said that even with the drop in water levels, there is no change yet when it comes to restrictions for residents, farmers and nurseries. The district said that part of the reason is because there has been no saltwater intrusion or increased chlorine levels in coastal wells.

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