Environmental Stewardship



Flood Damage Reduction

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Lake Okeechobee and The Okeechobee Waterway

Welcome to Lake Okeechobee and the Okeechobee Waterway! Located in central and southern Florida, the 451,000 acre lake and 154 mile long waterway extend from the Atlantic Ocean at Stuart, to the Gulf of Mexico at Ft. Meyers. The waterway runs through Lake Okeechobee and consists of the Caloosahatchee River to the west of the lake and the St. Lucie Canal east of the lake.

Lake Okeechobee and the Okeechobee Waterway Project is part of the complex water management system known as the Central and Southern Florida Flood Control Project. The projects cover 16,000 square miles starting just south of Orlando and extending southward through the Kissimmee River Basin to the Everglades National Park to Florida Bay.

The US Army Corps of Engineers South Florida Operations Office (SFOO) manages and operates 5 navigation locks and dams along the Okeechobee Waterway. St. Lucie Lock & Dam at Stuart, Port Mayaca Lock & Dam near Canal Point, Moore Haven Lock & Dam at Moore Haven, Ortona Lock & Dam near LaBelle and W. P. Franklin Lock & Dam near Ft. Myers. The SFOO also manages Canaveral Lock at Canaveral Harbor, Florida.

The lock recreation areas provide recreational facilities for public use year-round. The waterway serves navigation, flood control, recreation, drinking water, and agricultural irrigation purposes. The waterway has a major impact on the local economy, as users include both recreational and commercial marine traffic.

Project History


In the 1700's, various bands of Creek Indians from Georgia and Alabama migrated into Florida in search of new fields to plant corn, beans, and other important crops. Once in Florida, the various bands of Indians became known collectively as Seminoles, meaning "wild people" or "runaways." In the early 1800's, five thousand Seminoles lived in relative peace among the fertile fields and abundant woods of Florida. In 1840's, the Federal Armed Occupation Act brought new settlers into Florida.

In 1847, two years after Florida was granted statehood, a plan was proposed to reclaim the Everglades and attract thousands of settlers. Initially the promoters of South Florida felt it was just a matter of dredging a few canals to drain off the excessive waters.

It would be 30 years before that plan would be put into effect. Hamilton Disston, known as the Drainage King, proved to be the most successful at the time. Through his endeavors, the Kissimmee River was connected to the Gulf of Mexico using Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee River.


In the early 1900's, the State Legislature responded to public outcry by creating the Everglades Drainage District. The State's drainage commission coordinated the most active reclamation effort, completing more than half the excavation of the region. The system provided the groundwork for draining the northern and eastern parts of the Everglades. The newly drained area quickly became popular farm land. It was a time of great prosperity for the entire region. It would not last long.

The first of two devastating hurricanes hit in 1926. It claimed over 800 lives. Then in 1928, a second hurricane swept through the area. Wind driven water off Lake Okeechobee and torrential rains overflowed the lakeshore and claimed over 2,400 lives.

To prevent a reoccurrence of these disasters, the Florida State Legislature created the Okeechobee Flood Control District, which was authorized to cooperate with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in flood control undertakings.

After a personal inspection of the area by President Herbert Hoover, the Corps drafted a new plan which provided for the construction of floodway channels, control gates, and major levees along Lake Okeechobee's shores. A long term system was designed for the purpose of flood control, water conservation, prevention of saltwater intrusion, and preservation of fish and wildlife populations. A new era had arrived for Lake Okeechobee and this time, it seemed as though technology would control its waters.

The Okeechobee Waterway was officially opened on 23 March, 1937 by a boat-a-cade that left Ft. Myers on 22 March 1937 and arrived (via the Okeechobee Waterway of course) at Stuart the next day.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers works in cooperation with the South Florida Water Management District and several Federal, State, and local agencies to manage the water resources of this very fragile ecosystem. Some of those agencies include the following:

Environmental Protection Agency

Florida Department of Environmental Protection

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

National Park Service - Everglades National Park

South Florida Water Management District

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Last Page Update:  04/16/2007
Pagemaster John Cichoski