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  Title Date Document
  Go back to the News List! Florida: Dike Restoration Being Planned 07/16/2005 Document  
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Dike restoration being planned

By MaryAnn Morris, Okeechobee News

After years of planning, the Army Corps of Engineers has finally been successful in getting the Herbert Hoover Dike restoration project off the ground. On June 20, 2005, the Corps officially solicited bids for the first phase of this critical work. The bids are due Aug. 19, 2005.

"We estimate about one week for evaluation, a contract to be awarded around Sept. 11, 2005 and the chosen contractor to be able to begin in October," said Contract Specialist Pam Owens with the Army corps of Engineers in Jacksonville.

The dike is a critical part of South Florida's economy. In 1928 a hurricane roared up from the Caribbean and destroyed many of the towns along the lake and thousands of people died. To prevent this from happening again, the federal government built the Herbert Hoover Dike, enclosing the lake with a 34-foot high wall of earth, broken intermittently by channels that could be opened or closed to keep water in or release it.

A rich life has developed since the dike was built: sod and vegetable farms, orange groves and the sugar industry adds $7 billion and 120,000 full-time jobs to Florida's economy. The bass fishing industry adds another $2.2 billion each year to Florida's gross domestic product. More than 40,000 people make their lives in the towns that ring the lake, protected by the Hoover Dike.

Development along the coast requires fresh water. The water in Lake Okeechobee keeps coastal drinking water sources free of saltwater intrusion. South Florida's drinking water comes from rain as does the water to grow the crops that make up so much of the economy of the region.

In 1979 breaches of the dike caused damage to a FP & L cooling reservoir. Since 1984 the Army Corps of Engineers has written several reports documenting that areas of the 70-year-old dike were prone to seepage and stability problems, putting South Florida's economy and many of its citizens at risk.

In 1998, the Army Corps of Engineers gathered a group of five experts from universities in the United States and from the Netherlands to work on a plan to repair the dike. (Remember, the Netherlands is also surrounded by a dike.)

In 2002 through 2003, emergency repairs to the Dike were made to stop water from coming up on the land side of the Dike near South Bay, but the water already in the ground made that solution fail. Although the dike was built state-of-the-art in the 1930s, today the gravel, limestone and shell would not be used. Better methods of judging materials are used today than the engineers of the 1930s had. Those materials allow water to seep through. The deeper the water in the lake, the more the weight of the water pushes through the dike until it comes out the other side.

When it rains, the soil soaks up as much water as it can. Then the water begins to run off. In South Florida the average rainfall is over four feet a year. Most often it comes a few inches a day as afternoon thunderstorms from June through October.

This June, instead of the historic 6 inches or so, more than 14 inches of rain fell over the land that drains into the Lake. From Kissimmee, some 90 miles north of Lake Okeechobee Central Florida drains south into the lake as does much of the land surrounding it. Rain also falls onto the 760 square miles of the lake itself. All this water is held back by the 70-year-old Hoover Dike.

For many thousands of years Lake Okeechobee ebbed and swelled with Florida's wet and dry seasons. From the highlands to the Everglades, water slowly flowed, depositing rich organic sediment from the land north of the lake to form the rich farmland found by explorers in the 1800s.

Around the turn of the century, farmers were attracted to the rich soil and long growing season to raise crops and towns were built along the lake. But another part of Florida's sub-tropic climate was devastating hurricanes.

So we have the Herbert Hoover Dike and managed water in South and Central Florida. There are many considerations and no easy answers.

But the Dike will be repaired by the Corps of Engineers.

(For more on the plan to repair the Herbert Hoover Dike, see the Monday edition of the Okeechobee News. Some information for this article came from: "Lake Okeechobee and the Herbert Hoover Dike a Summary of the Engineering Evaluation of Seepage and Stability Problems at the Herbert Hoover Dike", U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; "Herbert Hoover Dike Major Rehabilitation Evaluation Report, Reach One: Final Environmental Impact Statement," U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District, July 2005; "Historical Analysis of the Contribution of the Everglades Research and Education Center," Univ. of FL IFAS and the Florida Division of Fisheries.)

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