The Leaks in Florida’s big Dike have been Fixed

The need to unite and coordinate efforts

The story about Herbert Hoover Dike in Florida is an inspiring one. It details the people’s concerns and struggles to keep and maintain it as a solid and strong bulwark in order to protect them from death and injury during the visit of killer hurricanes, tornadoes and tsunamis. Past tragedies have left in them imprints of hard-to-forget woeful memories.

The fury of the 1928 hurricane

In 1928 water rose from Lake Okeechobee in Florida and engulfed nearby settlements during a hurricane, drowning some 2,500 people. The tragedy went down in the United States history as one of the worst natural disasters.

The Birth of Florida’s Herbert Hoover Dike

The lesson was a costly one. To avoid the same catastrophe, a dike was constructed between the lots where the residents are and the lake, which is closely the size of Rhode Island. Obviously this man-made barrier named Herbert Hoover Dike was engineered to protect the people thereof.

The Parade of Hurricanes has proven the worthiness of the Dike

Since the 1928 tragedy, the lake had seen hurricanes and other weather disturbances, but none has penetrated the strong dike or inundated water over its top.  The dike had truly served the communities for the purpose it was built

The wear and tear takes its toll

But, because of the wear and tear in time, some parts of the dike has begun to leak.

According to a civilian repair engineer Jacob Davis, the problem was first realized by the U.S. Corps of Engineers when inspectors discovered proofs of seepage in the 1980s.

Cause of the Leak

According to the report, “the leaks are caused by water under constant pressure pushing against the dike, loosening soil, and gradually seeping through. As the water level rises, it exerts more pressure on the dike, and the seepage can worsen and cause the dike to fail.”

Davis said water flows through the ground naturally. In all dam sites   worldwide, seepage occurs. The water tends to move through gravel or clay and sand, he said.

As the water moves, it finds larger openings and follows the paths of least resistance, Davis added.

Repair work is on progress

A 35-kilometer section of the dike is currently under repair. Engineers have considered this a part of the effort to restore the dike.

Some 40,000 people now inhabit the lakeside towns of South Bay, Belle Glade, Okeechobee, and Pahokee,

The dike, which blends with the backdrop, has become part of the people’s life. However, residents are still reminded of the nightmarish catastrophe they had long-ago.

Tribute and honor

Executive director of the Belle Glade Chamber of Commerce Brenda Bunting said that they always give honor and tribute to those who died in the1928 storm, so they had a sculpture made depicting a young family of four escaping the flood, looking at the wall of water which is about to devour them.

The green light to start repair

The collapse of a small levee resulting from the horrible hurricane of 1928 September prompted to start work on the Herbert Hoover Dike, said the report.

Controlling the waters of Lake Okeechobee is akin to getting a firm hold on the tail of an endangered Florida panther, according to some. The leaks and recent seasons of destructive hurricanes have triggered  residents by the side of the lake to keep a watchful eye on the dike, according to Bunting.

Hurricane Wilma

When Hurricane Wilma proceeded toward the lake in October 2005, fear, tension and uneasiness gripped the residents, Bunting said.

The dike held on overcoming the onslaught, but people there still manifest the negative hangover of the power of wind and water, she added.

Corbin’s restaurant

Charles Corbin’s restaurant, a 1935 vintage, on Torrey’s Island in the southeastern corner of the lake, was placed under about two meters of water by the storm surge

“The surge came across the lake like a tidal wave or a tsunami,” Corbin said. “It went up real fast and went right back down.”

Could Tragedy Strike Again?

An engineering professor at the University of Central Florida in Orlando Scott Hagen, said that it’s unlikely the dike will fail because of a hurricane.

“If they keep the water at the appropriate level in Lake Okeechobee, the chances of having water surging up and over the dike are very, very low,” he said.

But, if a tropical storm poured lots of rain over Florida, the water level in Lake Okeechobee could rise dramatically, Hagen said.

And if a hurricane with winds of 190 km an hour (120 miles an hour) or more crossed the lake a few days later, “I could envision the water overtopping the dikes,” he said.

“Would the dikes hold up if that happened? There’s no way of knowing,” Hagen said.

Repair work falls on the shoulders of the US Army Corps of Engineers

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is doing commendable repair works on the dike, after Hurricane Wilma’s frightening onslaught. This greatly relieved the tension and uneasiness of the residents living around the lake, said South Bay City Manager Tony Smith.

Smith said the storm dumped some 2 to 3 meters of debris into the lake that it clogged the intake where South Bay sources its drinking water.

“It’s a relief to know that that dike will be secure. It would blow your mind to know what was taken out of that intake.”

Updates about the dike

According to Wikipedia, over the years, the quality of the flood control around the lake has grown. From a small earthen dike constructed in the 1910s, the dike has seen lots of improvements to include provisions for the construction of floodway channels, control gates, and major levees along Lake Okeechobee’s shores. The cost of construction was about $165 million (USD). The dike is now about 30 feet (9 meters) high on average. This is sufficient to protect against future storm surges or flooding

Herbert Hoover Dike Project

A proposed project to extend rehab on the Herbert Hoover Dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee by about six miles in Palm Beach County is about to start by March, said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District.

In this proposal, the Corps will continue fixing the embankment of the dike between John Stretch Park and Belle Glade. Previous efforts to fix the embankment included installation of a seepage barrier between Belle Glade and Port Mayaca from 2007-2012.

The rehab of the dike is a high priority project of the Corps, where they invest over $500 million since 2007 in construction of the 22-mile cutoff wall and replacement of water control structures. The intent of the  project is to reduce dike failure for people living in Lake Okeechobee.

CREDIT: Youtube.com for video; commons wikimedia for picture used in the poll.

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