Fla. water managers report strong performance from flood control system

While some localized flooding remains as a result of Tropical Storm Fay, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) reports the Central and Southern Flood Control System performed well in handling the storm's heavy rainfall. Water managers lowered water levels throughout the massive system to protect South Florida communities from the impacts of flooding. Over the weekend water managers shifted from water shortage operations to flood prevention and protection...

Aug 20th, 2008

WEST PALM BEACH, FL, Aug. 19, 2008 -- While some localized flooding remains as a result of Tropical Storm Fay, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) reports the Central and Southern Flood Control System performed well in handling the storm's heavy rainfall. Water managers lowered water levels throughout the massive system to protect South Florida communities from the impacts of flooding.

Over the weekend water managers shifted from water shortage operations to flood prevention and protection. In anticipation of the storm, water levels within the flood control system were lowered to maximize water storage capacity and enhance the ability of local drainage facilities to move excess storm runoff into the District canal system.

In carrying out its critical flood control mission, water managers operated the massive flood control pump stations at western Palm Beach County throughout the night to move as much water as possible from the Miami, North New River, Hillsboro and West Palm Beach canals into the District's stormwater treatment areas.

In accordance with the District's emergency protocols and to maximize flood protection for communities like Belle Glade, the District also activated the S-2 and S-3 pumps to move additional water from the canals into Lake Okeechobee. These pumps are an original feature of the 70-year-old water management system constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that protects communities and agricultural land south of Lake Okeechobee from severe storm-related flooding.

"After two years with so little rain, the District prepared well for the tropical storm by putting our flood control measures into place to protect lives and property," said Carol Ann Wehle, SFWMD Executive Director. "Our operational staff worked flawlessly to move water at the right time through our structures and canals to safeguard millions of South Florida residents and minimize any environmental storm-related impacts."

To protect regional water supplies and alleviate flooding, the District operates a regional water management system that consists of close to 2,000 miles of canals and levees and 2,200 structures, including 500 major water control structures. By lowering canal levels in advance of the storm, water managers maximized the storage available within the canals to capture and contain runoff.

"This important step cannot be overstated," said SFWMD Operations Director Susan Sylvester. "Our staff successfully got the job done and the system performed well, both before and during the storm."

As of mid-afternoon, Tropical Storm Fay averaged three inches of rainfall across the 16-county District, with some areas receiving more than eight inches of rain.

Approximately six inches of rainfall from the tropical storm fell over Lake Okeechobee, increasing the water level by midnight to 11.34 feet NGVD. Despite the rains, the lake remains close to two and a half feet below normal after nearly two years of sustained water shortage conditions.

As the storm passes and recovery begins, water managers will conduct field inspections over the next few days to assess the network of canals and water control structures throughout the District. Recovery teams will conduct mechanical inspections, begin debris removal where needed and assess canals for storm-related erosion.

"Mobilizing staff for recovery operations is essential," added Sylvester. "With the system now at full capacity, it needs time to recover. We cannot predict when the next storm will develop and preparation is a priority."

The District has established a Citizen Information Line (1-877-429-1294 or 561-682-6234) for inquires from the public relating to Tropical Storm Fay.

Water managers and emergency personnel are remaining on-site and will continue to monitor storm-related impacts and to manage local, county, state and federal coordination and communication. District offices will be open tomorrow.

The South Florida Water Management District is a regional, governmental agency that oversees the water resources in the southern half of the state -- 16 counties from Orlando to the Keys. It is the oldest and largest of the state's five water management districts.

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