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Will Elsa prompt water discharges from Lake Okeechobee?

Lake Okeechobee's water level currently at 12.82 feet
Posted at 12:36 PM, Jul 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-02 17:14:42-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.  — South Florida and the Treasure Coast are closely monitoring the track of Hurricane Elsa and whether it will impact our weather early next week.

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The system is scheduled to be downgraded to a tropical storm before threatening Florida's coast sometime Monday or Tuesday.

As is the case whenever a tropical system approaches Florida, the Army Corps of Engineers and other experts are evaluating the water levels of Lake Okeechobee.

MORE: Latest details on Elsa | Track Elsa

The delicate balance of managing the lake becomes trickier during hurricane season since a tropical system can dramatically cause the rise of water levels in a short period of time.

Lake Okeechobee's water level is at 12.82 feet as of July 1.

This figure is a slight rise from the 12.79-foot level on June 1 as the summer rainy season ramps up in Florida.

MORE: Why Elsa is such an unusual storm

Boater on July 2, 2021
Boaters hit the water on July 2, 2021, ahead of the Fourth of July weekend.

The Army Corps has not made any announcements regarding any possible water discharges from the lake ahead of Elsa.

Army Corps of Engineers spokesman James Yocum said his agency is prepared for their first tropical storm threat of the season, with a lake level that he said is currently in a good spot.

He does not anticipate the Corps having to make any major changes to their operations before the storm.

"I don't think we're going to have to make a lot of changes immediately," Yocum said. "We're going to be constantly monitoring the conditions with the storm."

The steps the Corps takes after any potential heavy rain will depend on where the rain falls.

Even if it rains heavily over the lake, that's not always the biggest risk.

"The rain in the Kissimmee area, that chain of lakes up there, if we got really heavy rain there, an inch there equates to like three inches on the lake. It's a lot of water that comes down," Yocum said.

If it rains heavily over the St. Lucie Estuary and Caloosahatchee River, Yocum said that could impact whether the Corps is able to release any water from the lake into the estuaries.

Boater on July 2, 2021
Boaters on the Treasure Coast said the water was "crystal clear" at high tide on July 2, 2021.

For now, 1,000 cubic feet per second is being released from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee River. No releases are being sent to the St. Lucie Estuary, and the Corps is maximizing the amount of water it is sending to the south.

"No matter where the rain falls, it will impact us some way or another on operations. We just don't know what that impact will be," Yocum said.

Previous water releases from Lake Okeechobee have helped to produce toxic blue-green algae along the St. Lucie River and Estuary in years past, causing backlash from environmental groups and Martin County residents for years.

Toxic algae has also been a problem this year for residents on the C-51 canal in Palm Beach County, prompting multiple health alerts.

Multiple health alerts for algae have also been issued for Lake Okeechobee over the last few weeks, including one on Friday for the Pahokee Ramp.