Two days before the start of hurricane season, Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson quizzed top-ranking officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about the safety of the Herbert Hoover Dike on Wednesday.
Although the dike has been ranked a Level 1 risk — considered by the corps to be the most likely to fail, the 143-mile-long dike around the lake has been made more sound by repairs over the past few years, said officials with the corps, which owns and maintains the dike.
Seepage, among the most grave concerns, has been lessened by a concrete cut-off wall built 50 feet into the ground along a 21.4-mile stretch between Port Mayaca and Belle Glade. Stockpiles of rocks and boulders have been positioned in critical areas in case of an emergency, and the corps is removing and replacing culverts, some installed in the 1930s, when the dike was built.
The optimal water level in the lake is between 12.5 and 15.5 feet, officials said. As water rises, the risk of failure increases. On Tuesday the water level was 13.27 feet. During a storm, water enters the lake six times faster than it can be pumped out — a fact that concerned Nelson.
“I’m a lot more confident after what I’ve heard,” Nelson said. “But I also know the Army Corps was confident about the levees in New Orleans when Katrina hit.”