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Lake Okeechobee
from space, September 1988
Location Florida
Coordinates 26°56′N 80°48′W / 26.933°N 80.8°W / 26.933; -80.8Coordinates: 26°56′N 80°48′W / 26.933°N 80.8°W / 26.933; -80.8
Primary inflows Taylor Creek, Kissimmee River
Primary outflows Everglades
Basin countries United States
Surface area 730 sq mi (1,900 km2)
Average depth 9 ft (2.7 m)
Max. depth 12 ft (3.7 m)
Water volume 1.25 cu mi (5.2 km3) (we think)
Surface elevation 12.27 ft (3.74 m) to 18.02 ft (5.49 m)
Islands Kreamer, Torry, Ritta, Grass, Observation, Bird, Horse, Hog, Eagle Bay


Lake Okeechobee (pronounced /ˌoʊkɨˈtʃoʊbiː/) locally referred to as The Lake or The Big O, is a freshwater lake in the U.S. state of Florida. It is the second-largest freshwater lake wholly within the continental United States (after Lake Michigan) and the largest in the southern United States.[1] Okeechobee covers 730 square miles (1,890 km²), approximately half the size of the state of Rhode Island, and is relatively shallow, with an average depth of only 9 feet (3 m). The lake is divided between Glades, Okeechobee, Martin, Palm Beach, and Hendry counties. Maps of Florida[2] show that all five of these counties meet at one point near the center of the lake.

Contents

History

Okeechobee is thought to have been formed out of the ocean about 6,000 years ago when the waters receded.[3] At its capacity, the lake holds 1 trillion gallons of water[4] and is the headwaters of the Everglades.[5]

The name Okeechobee comes from the Hitchiti words oki (water) and chubi (big), and means "big water". It was previously called Macaco and Mayaimi, the latter the origin of the name of the city Miami, Florida by way of the Miami River.[6]

The floor of the lake is a limestone basin, and the lake varies in depth from 1 to 13 feet (0.3 to 4 m). Its water is somewhat murky from nutrient-enriched runoff from surrounding farmlands. The surface is above sea level. The lake is enclosed by a 20-foot (6 m) high dike built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers after a hurricane in 1928 breached the old dike, flooding surrounding communities and claiming thousands of lives. There are several inflows, including Taylor Creek and the Kissimmee River, and several small outlets, such as the Miami River, the New River on the east, and the Caloosahatchee River (via the Caloosahatchee Canal and Lake Hicpochee) on the southwest.

View of Lake Okeechobee from Pahokee.

Hurricanes

In 1926 the Great Miami Hurricane hit the Lake Okeechobee area, killing approximately 300 people. Two years later in 1928, the Okeechobee Hurricane crossed over the lake, killing thousands. The Red Cross reported a figure of 1,836 deaths which the National Weather Service initially accepted, but in 2003, the number was revised to "at least 2,500".[7] In both cases the catastrophe was caused by flooding from a storm surge when strong winds drove water over the 6-foot (2 m) mud dike that circled the lake at the time.

After the two hurricanes, the Florida State Legislature created the "Okeechobee Flood Control District". The organization was authorized to cooperate with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in actions to prevent similar disasters. U.S. President Herbert Hoover visited the area personally, and afterward the Corps designed a new plan incorporating the construction of channels, gates and levees. The Okeechobee Waterway was officially opened on March 23, 1937 by a procession of boats which left Fort Myers, Florida on March 22 and arrived at Stuart, Florida the following day. The dike was then named the "Herbert Hoover Dike" in honor of the president.

The 1947 Fort Lauderdale Hurricane sent an even larger storm surge to the crest of the new dike, causing it to be expanded again in the 1960s.

Three recent hurricanes, Hurricane Frances, Hurricane Jeanne and Hurricane Wilma, had no major adverse effects on communities surrounding Lake Okeechobee, even though the lake rose 18 inches after Hurricane Wilma in 2005. Tropical Storm Ernesto increased water levels by a foot in 2006, the last time it exceeded 13 feet.[4] However, the lake's level began dropping soon after and by July 2007, it had dropped more than 4 feet to its all-time low of 8.82 feet. In August 2008, Tropical Storm Fay increased water levels to 12.22 feet above sea level, the first time it exceeded 12 feet since January 2007. Over a seven day period (including some storms that preceded Fay), about 8 inches of rain fell directly onto the lake.[4]

National Scenic Trail

The 100-foot (30 m)-wide dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee is a part of the Florida Trail, a 1,400-mile long trail that is a National Scenic Trail. There is a well-maintained paved pathway along the majority of the perimeter. It is used by hikers and bicyclists, and is wide enough to accommodate authorized vehicles.

Fishing

The most common fish in this lake are largemouth bass, crappie and bluegill. Pickerel have been less commonly caught.

Rim Canal

During construction of the dike, earth was excavated along the inside perimeter, resulting in a deep channel which runs along the perimeter of the lake. In most places the canal is part of the lake, but in others it is separated from the open lake by low grassy islands such as Kreamer Island. During the drought of 2007-2008 this canal remained navigable while much of surrounding areas were too shallow or even above the water line. Even when the waters are higher, navigating the open lake can be tricky, whereas the rim canal is simple, so to reach a specific location in the lake it is often easiest to go around the rim canal to get close then take one of the many channels into the lake.[8]

Environmental concerns

In 2007, during a drought, state water and wildlife managers removed thousands of truckloads of toxic mud from the lake's floor, in an effort to restore the lake's natural sandy base and create clearer water and better habitat for wildlife. The mud contained elevated levels of arsenic and other pesticides. According to tests from the South Florida Water Management District, arsenic levels on the northern part of the lake bed were as much as four times the limit for residential land. Independent tests found the mud too polluted for use on agricultural or commercial lands, and therefore difficult to dispose of on land.[9]

Through early 2008, the lake remained well below normal levels, with large portions of the lake bed exposed above the water line. During this time, portions of the lake bed, covered in organic matter, dried out and caught fire.[10] In late August 2008, Tropical Storm Fay inundated Florida with record amounts of rain. Lake Okeechobee received almost a 4-foot increase in water level, including local run-off from the tributaries. This quick rise, mixed with largely polluted run-off from local farmlands, has killed thousands of fish.

The lake in popular culture

Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades feature as a backdrop for the 1951 Gary Cooper film, Distant Drums.

'The Okeechobee' is mentioned in the refrain of a popular C&W (and crossover) hit, "Seminole Wind", written and performed by John Anderson (1992).

Lake Okeechobee is the setting of a climactic scene in Carl Hiaasen's 2002 novel Basket Case (Ch. 28).

Lake Okeechobee is the setting of a significant part of Zora Neale Hurston's novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, and the movie of the same name. Janie and Tea Cake go there to work "on the muck".

The lake also features in the refrain of the Lisa Brokop song Wildflower (Hey, Do You Know Me, 2005) "...sittin' on the bank of the Okeechobee, watchin' that river run"

It is one of the featured lakes in the multi-platform Activision game, Rapala's Fishing Frenzy.

The Lake Okeechobee is used as a backdrop in the X-Files episode "conduit". It is supposedly a "hotspot" for UFOs and Mulder is surprised that Scully had never heard of it. "in a campsite by the shore of Lake Okobogee, Lowa, a teenage girl disappears in mysterious circumstances".

Lake Okeechobee is mentioned in the Hank Williams, Jr. song "Dixie on My Mind". 1981

References

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Simple English

Lake Okeechobee is the largest lake in the U.S. state of Florida. Lake Okeechobee covers about 730 square miles (about half the size of Rhode Island). [1] The lake is shared by Glades, Okeechobee, Martin, Palm Beach, and Hendry counties. [2] Some cities on the shore of Lake Okeechobee include: Belle Glade, Clewiston, Okeechobee, and Pahokee.

References

Pictures of Lake Okeechobee


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