Lake Okeechobee and the Florida Everglades are an ecological wonder. Much has been made about current efforts to help restore the lake and the system to a more natural state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has information on the challenge (look at this profile of the Herbert Hoover Dike, surrounding the big lake, and this profile of Lake Okeechobee). At this next link you will find a page devoted to various aspects of the Everglades Restoration project. Back to the Big Lake, though:
In the late 1920s, hurricanes forced walls of wind driven water over the lake's edges, causing catastrophic flooding. Another series of hurricanes in the late 1940s, along with several severe droughts and development pressures led to the construction of a 30 foot earthen wall around much of the lake.
Other changes, including deepening and connecting waterways to the lake that once were only connected under very wet conditions, brought enhanced flood protection and navigation to the region, and helped protect regional water supplies. But the changes also had unintended consequences.
Naturally -- you can't mess around with an ecological system that complex and not have some drastic effects, including quite serious unintended consequences. This week various Florida agencies are dealing with a fire on the western side of the lake resulting from a lack of rainfall. Here's an article on the situation from the Treasure Coast newspapers, on the east coast of the state:
State fire officials added fuel to a Lake Okeechobee wildfire Tuesday in an effort to stop plumes of ash and smoke blowing into the Treasure Coast.
The 31,470-acre fire on an island in the marshy section of the lake near Moore Haven started Sunday and likely will be completely extinguished by this morning, thanks to firefighters actually making the fire worse.
"The only way to fight this fire was to let it burn out and have continuous smoke for the next month or speed up the process," said Melissa Yunas, a spokeswoman with the state Division of Forestry. "We're using the burnout technique." Yunas said firefighters used helicopters to drop golf ball-sized chemicals that ignited into flames throughout the 40,000-acre island — which formed because of the lake's low water levels. Because the island could not be reached by firefighting equipment, the goal was to make the fire burn even faster.
The westerly winds pushed the smoke away from the residents closest to the fire, she said.
However, the winds also brought the smoky conditions toward Martin, St. Lucie, Okeechobee and Indian River counties.
And here are a few photos of what it looks like in the area around Moore Haven, courtesy of the South Florida Water Management District, from the ground and from the air:
For better or worse, that entire area of the state requires constant maintenance. Hats off to the men and women who do the job that has to be done.