Lake Okeechobee high water levels: Has been rising about 6 inches a week, stands at 15.66 feet today

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- The Army Corps of Engineers has activated its emergency operations center in response to high water levels at Lake Okeechobee.

The corps' emergency operations center in Jacksonville was activated Friday. Officials say the lake has been rising about 6 inches a week and stood at 15.66 feet by Saturday.

The corps fully opened its locks around the lake Thursday to protect the aging Herbert Hoover Dike. Corps spokeswoman Jenn Miller tells The Palm Beach Post that inspectors found "minor flow increases" in areas where the earthen dike was known to seep.

Miller says the seepage was "nothing serious," but the corps wanted to be ready to react to any effects from Tropical Storm Dorian.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami said Saturday that Dorian was expected to weaken as the disorganized storm system continued spinning west over the open Atlantic.

"If this storm was not currently in the Atlantic, we would not be activating the EOC," Miller said. "Usually we activate the EOC in regards to lake levels when we start daily inspections, which would begin if the lake reached 16.5 feet."

Weekly inspections of the dike began when the lake's water level rose above 15.5 feet on Monday.

The corps controls the dike and locks around Lake Okeechobee, which covers 730 square miles. On Thursday, the corps fully opened the locks to drain water from the lake to keep the water level from rising too high and putting too much pressure on the dike, parts of which date to the 1930s.

In the corps' 2014 budget request, problems with the dike were described as so serious that it was given a Level 1 risk ranking. "Structures in this class are critically near failure or extremely high risk under normal operations without intervention," officials wrote. "In this case, there is a concern even at a relatively low pool level due to the limitations of the current outlet structures."

The budget request also noted seepage, also known as piping, as a concern.

"Currently, the probability of catastrophic dike failure due to piping is unacceptably high. Such an event would produce flooding, which could (depending on its location) lead to the loss of life and/or significant economic damage," officials wrote.


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