The infrastructure that prevents Lake Okeechobee from spilling over is old. And that's why Congress allocated $49.6 million to help repair it this fiscal year.
U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), who's the founder and Co-Chairman of the Everglades Caucus, toured the Herbert Hoover Dike on Lake Okeechobee Monday. He got an update on the dike's rehabilitation projects from the Commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville district.
Standing at a marina in the shadow of the dike, Diaz-Balart ruminated on the importance of fixing the 143- mile structure.
"It's key for the economy, it's key for the environment and it's key for the safety of the people in this area. This is the lifeline of this part of Florida," he said. "This lake and the levees have to be fortified, so people can do their business, run their lives, raise their families in safety."
From the marina, Hendry County Commissioner Karson Turner drove his boat through the dike's massive floodgate into one of Lake Okeechobee's channels.
The Herbert Hoover Dike is made of culverts (drainage structures) and hurricane gates that help prevent the lake from completely flooding the towns south of it. But Turner said a lot of the infrastructure is outdated, old and crumbling.
He drove the boat up to a new culvert.
"This is an example of a culvert replacement that has been completed. You didn't have the massive wing wall and the stem wall," he said. "[Now], you have a safer structure."
This culvert was completed in 2015 and cost $49 million.
Turner said the lake's precarious infrastructure caused flood insurance premiums to rise for Hendry County residents.
"[The residents] were already living on a threshold where they didn't need any more bottom line added to their cost of living," said Turner.
Restoration of the levee system began around 2001, costing about $900 million to date. Congressman Diaz-Balart said he hopes the projects around the lake can be finished by 2020. And that's going to take millions of dollars more.