BREAKING NEWS: San Jacinto River Authority should learn from Florida’s Lake Okeechobee pre-releases to manage anticipated high waters from Hurricane Irma

BREAKING NEWS!

Portion of Herbert Hoover Dike on the edge of Lake Okeechobee, near Miami, Florida.

ERIC YOLLICK, The Golden Hammer, and ASSOCIATED PRESS

Lake Okechobee, Florida, September 6 – The San Jacinto River Authority should learn some major lessons from the management of the Herbert Hoover Dike and Lake Okeechobee, near Miami, as the Lake Okeechobee Flood Control District and the United States Army Corps of Engineers are pre-releasing water from the Lake through the Dike and its locks downstream in order to manage the anticipated 12 to 18 inches of rain likely to come during the next few days as Hurricane Irma moves towards south Florida. The pre-releasing through the Lake Okeechobee Flood Control system is precisely the type of managed pre-releasing that SJRA, its Board of Directors, and its General Manager Jace Houston abjectly failed to do.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Flood Control District are releasing water from Florida’s Lake Okeechobee in preparation for Hurricane Irma’s expected arrival in the state this weekend. Spokesman John Campbell said Tuesday the plan is to drain the lake for three days to drop its current level of almost 14 feet.

The Corps says Irma could add a foot of water directly to the lake as it passes and then 3 feet of runoff in the coming weeks. The Corps tries to keep the lake below 16 feet and worries about the stability of the Hoover Dike, which surrounds the lake, if it exceeds 18 feet.

The original dike was constructed in the 1910s. It did not operate properly during the “Great Miami Hurricane” of September, 1926, which caused numerous thousands of deaths in the Miami vicinity. Failures of the original embankments during hurricanes in 1926 and 1928 killed over 3,000 people when waters flooded neighboring towns.

President Herbert Hoover, a renowned engineer his own right, later inspected the dike system when he was President of the United States and felt that it was deficient in design. He ordered renovation of the Dike. After the renovations, which Hoover had inspired, the Roosevelt administration renamed the dike the Herbert Hoover Dike.

The modern Herbert Hoover Dike is over 82 miles long and now forms a major recreational area for south Florida. Bicycle riders consider the Herbert Hoover Dike one of the premier places to ride in the United States.

Most of current dike was built in the 1960s. It averages 30 feet in height. About 40,000 people live nearby today. After the Hoover re-design, the Herbert Hoover Dike has not caused downstream flooding deaths (for more than 80 years).

The dike has been undergoing a $1.7 billion improvement plan that should be finished in the mid-2020s.

It is unconscionable that the San Jacinto River Authority failed to manage the water in Lake Conroe properly before Tropical Storm Harvey struck the Greater Houston area. By waiting to release massive quantities of water from the Lake Conroe Dam until approximately 2 a.m., Monday, August 28, 2017, SJRA flooded thousands of homes downstream. Please see “Montgomery County’s Pearl Harbor: What Would You Have Done Differently If You Controlled SJRA’s Decisions?” The Golden Hammer, September 4, 2017.

What are some of the things SJRA should have done to prevent the flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey:

  • Provided a real and substantial early warning to downstream neighborhoods before the major releases of water occurred on August 28, 2017. Issuing a press release only was unacceptable.
  • Engaging in managed pre-releases of water and reducing the Lake Conroe level well before August 28, as SJRA had several days of warning before Tropical Storm Harvey struck.
  • Doing “wargaming” scenarios to prepare for such events.
  • Engaging in flood control, which is one of the primary statutory functions of SJRA, as a prospective planning tool rather than waiting for a major weather event to occur and reacting.

 

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