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lake okeechobee

map of lake okeechobee
Map showing location of Lake Okeechobee.
Lake Okeechobee is located in central southern Florida, north of the Everglades and south of Orlando. Lake Okeechobee links the Atlantic and Gulf sides of Florida via the Port Mayaca Lock on the east side of the lake and the Moore Haven Lock on the lake’s western side. Drainage canals lower the lake and drain adjacent lands for farming. Agricultural activities around the Lake Okeechobee area include cattle ranching, dairy farming, and crop production of sugarcane, winter vegetables, citrus, sod, sweet corn and rice.

Lake Okeechobee, Seminole for "big water", covers about 700 mi2. It is the second largest freshwater lake contained entirely within the lower 48 states. Lake Okeechobee is a shallow water body with average depths of about 10 feet and maximum depths less than 20 feet. Recharge of the lake comes from rainfall and the Kissimmee River to the north.

South Florida's climate is subtropical and humid. Average annual rainfall in South Florida is between 40 to 65-inches. More than half of the rainfall occurs in the wet season, which is June through September. Historically, rainfall from the Kissimmee Valley filled the Lake during the summer rainy season and excess water spilled out along its southern shore. Some of the waters were absorbed into the soil, converting decaying plant materials into rich, fertile mucky soils; the rest were released to the beginning flows of the Everglade’s "River of Grass". Shallow waters a few inches to a few feet in depth and over 50 miles wide, slowly flowed 100 miles south to the Gulf of Mexico and Florida Bay.

In 1926 and 1928, hurricane waters destroyed the dikes on the lake’s southern edge which resulted in thousands of deaths. Canals and levees were built and Lake Okeechobee was developed for use as a reservoir. Today, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District direct the waters via dikes, canals and floodgates in order to protect against flooding, to prevent saltwater intrusion, and to provide water for agricultural irrigation and drinking water supplies to large urban areas in South Florida. These water management activities have greatly encumbered the water flow from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades. Instead of alternating wet and dry seasons, which provided steady sheets of water, the Everglades now receive times of drought or powerful discharges of water.

Drive east with us along State Road 70 to Lake Okeechobee. Along the way, we'll stop to see some of the agricultural activities of the area. Once there, we'll see the Herbert Hoover Dike that surrounds the lake and some of the water control structures that are being used to direct Lake Okeechobee's waters.

A photo gallery is available for this page. [Photos taken December, 1999 and April, 2000]

Cattle ranching and dairy farming is most intensive in the vicinity of and to the north of Lake Okeechobee. Both are important agricultural activities in South Florida.
photo of a cow
Attentive cattle study our approach to the fence north of State Road 70, about 2 miles west of Hwy 675. [larger image]
photo of wandering cows
Cattle graze contentedly north of State Road 70, about 2 miles west of Hwy 675. [larger image]
photo of cows off in the distance
A large herd of cattle in a pasture north of State Road 70, about 5 miles east of Arcadia. [larger image]

Turf Farms photo of a turf farm
[larger image]
Seen beyond the dirt road are smooth, green grasses of a turf farm located south of State Road 70, about 2 miles west of Hwy 675.

Orange Groves
photo of orange trees in a row

Green stagnant waters fill this drainage ditch that lies in front of an orange grove located north of State Road 70, about 5 1/2 miles east of Arcadia. [larger image]

Generally, the harvesting season for Florida citrus is from September through June. Florida is the #1 state in the U.S. for growing oranges. Florida's state beverage is orange juice and Florida's state flower is the orange blossom.
close up photo of orange trees

Looking through the rows of an orange grove located north of State Road 70, about 5 1/2 miles east of Arcadia. [larger image]

IPIX - Northern Lake Okeechobee  
Within four years of the devastating 1928 hurricane, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers built the Herbert Hoover Dike that surrounds Lake Okeechobee. The dike is about 140 miles long and about 35 feet high.

Navigate around this 360° view along northern Lake Okeechobee and observe the large embankment that is Herbert Hoover Dike.

  IPIX image of Northern Lake Okeechobee
Note: You will need the free IPIX viewer to view this 360° image  

IPIX - Northern Lake Okeechobee - City of Okeechobee  
The City of Okeechobee is located along the northern border of Lake Okeechobee.

Navigate around this 360° view atop of Lake Okeechobee’s Herbert Hoover Dike at the City of Okeechobee. Structure S-193, the navigation lock structure seen here, is used for flood control purposes and boating access to the lake. Nearby urban dwellings rely on the Herbert Hoover Dike and control structures like this one for water supply and protection from flooding.

  IPIX image of Northern Lake Okeechobee
Note: You will need the free IPIX viewer to view this 360° image  

Stuctures and Gates, Oh My!
photo of gated control structure S-191
[larger image]
Looking from the south side of US 98/441, about 10 miles east of the City of Okeechobee, onto Canal 59 (C-59) in the foreground and Control Structure S-191. This gated structure controls water flow, from the north, into Lake Okeechobee. Gates can either hold water in or let water out. photo of gated control structure S-191
[larger image]

Birds on Buoys photo of birds on buoys
[larger image]
On the Lake side of Control Structure S-191, located about 10 miles east of the City of Okeechobee, double-crested cormorants rest atop the buoys and wooden posts. Lake Okeechobee is seen to the right.
On the Lake side of Control Structure S-191, located about 10 miles east of the City of Okeechobee, a double-crested cormorant balances atop a buoy floating in Lake Okeechobee.

Cormorants use their hooked beak for grasping prey, usually fish. They have webbed feet that quickly propel the bird both on surface waters and underwater.

photo of a cormorant
[larger image]

Port Mayaca Lock and Dam Pictures
The Port Mayaca Lock is one of many locks along the 152-mile Okeechobee Waterway that connects Florida's coasts. The waterway consists of Lake Okeechobee, the St. Lucie Canal on the Lake's Eastern Shore and the Caloosahatchee River on the Lake's Western Shore.
photo of port mayaca, looking south
Looking south.
[larger image]
(Left and right) From atop a bridge on US 98/441, along the Eastern Shore of Lake Okeechobee, north of Port Mayaca, Lake Okeechobee is seen behind the Port Mayaca Lock and Dam. The Rim Canal, formed from land dug up for creation of the Herbert Hoover Dike, is in the foreground. photo of port mayaca lock, looking east
Looking east.
[larger image]

(Right) Looking eastward from the middle of the Port Mayaca Dam, at the St. Lucie Canal and the US 98/441 overpass above. The entrance to the Port Mayaca Navigational Lock is seen at far right.

Port Mayaca Navigational Lock Sequence
U.S. Army Corp of Engineer (USACE) personnel is on call to open the Port Mayaca Navigational Lock. Boaters need only call ahead on marine radio to ask that the lock be opened for their passage.

(Below) See how USACE personnel perform the about 20-minute navigational lockage procedure.

photo of gates closing
[larger image]
Boaters anchor themselves to the navigational lock wall as the canal-side gates close.

photo of water rushing into the gates
[larger image]
After the canal-side gates closed, lakeside gates opened and rushing Lake Okeechobee waters were admitted into the enclosed area.

photo of boats waiting to get thru
[larger image]
While the lakeside gates open, boaters get ready to exit the navigational lock. In the background are the closed canal-side gates and the St. Lucie Canal.

photo of boat exiting from lock
[larger image]
With the canal-side gates closed behind them and the lakeside gates open before them, a boater slowly exits from the navigational lock.

(above) The St. Lucie Canal extends back from the closed gates, the Rim Canal is to the right of the lock and the US 98/441 overpass is above.

photo of boaters on their way into Lake Okeechobee
[larger image]
Boaters leave the navigational lock and head out into the open waters of Lake Okeechobee.

photo of open lock
[larger image]
Looking through the open lakeside gates onto Lake Okeechobee.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineer personnel overlooks the closing of the lakeside gates. Lake Okeechobee is in the background.

The lakeside gates in their closed position. Once these gates closed, the canal-side gates were reopened.

Related SOFIA Information

Below we have listed science projects and publications for studies that are being conducted, or have been conducted, in the Lake Okeechobee region. Follow these links to read about each project and to see project-related publications and data.

Science Projects:

Related Publications:



U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, Center for Coastal Geology
This page is: http://sofia.usgs.gov /virtual_tour/lakeokee/index.html
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Last updated: January 15, 2013 @ 12:44 PM(KP)