Lake Okeechobee in southern Florida epitomizes rural Florida culture and excitement. The Okeechobee region’s breathtaking flora and fauna characterizes natural Florida. Okeechobee, on the southeastern side of Florida, is a natural inland sea. The romantic Caloosahatchee River flows west from Okeechobee, past Ft. Myers and Cape Coral, to the Gulf of Mexico.
Lake Okeechobee provides outdoor enthusiasts with abounding recreational opportunities, events, and festivals year-round. Lake Okeechobee covers 730-square miles and stretches along 135-miles of shoreline with an average depth of nine feet. Lake Okeechobee supports one of the most productive fisheries in the world.
The Cross-State Ship Channel, known as the Okeechobee Waterway or C-43 Canal, was built in 1937, from Lake Okeechobee east to the Atlantic Ocean. This gave vessels up to 50-feet long a cross-state waterway from the Atlantic via Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf on the Caloosahatchee River.
Boats could then bypass the previous longer route around the southern end of Florida from the Gulf to the Atlantic…and the beautiful, vast Lake Okeechobee became part of their journeys. The Okeechobee Waterway proved harmful to the Florida Everglades and the Florida Bay ecosystems.
This canal diverted necessary water away from their sensitive ecosystems. Today, the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir is preparing to store and treat Okeechobee lake water before sending it south to the Everglades National Park and Florida Bay, where it is most needed.
The Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District broke ground on the EAA Reservoir just south of Lake Okeechobee in early 2023. The EAA is designed to store excess Lake Okeechobee water to release it to the Everglade regions that Okeechobee waters used to nourish naturally before the Okeechobee Waterway.
Is There a City Under Lake Okeechobee?
Lake Okeechobee is a natural lake. So there are no inundated ghost towns. Hurricanes created the ghost towns of Lake Okeechobee.
The second most deadly hurricane in the U.S., Hurricane San Felipe Segundo, aka Hurricane Okeechobee, hit the Okeechobee region in 1928. It caused 2,500 fatalities and wiped out almost a dozen communities. These are the “Ghost Towns of Okeechobee”:
Bean City, Belle Glade, Canal Point, Chosen, Kreamer Island, Lake Harbor, Okeelanta, Pahokee, Port Mayaca, Ritta Island, Sand Cut, and South Bay. San Felipe Segundo left 1.5 million people homeless. Most attempts to rebuild the towns and communities failed. Yet Lake Okeechobee was destined to become a Florida treasure trove.
Was Lake Okeechobee Man Made?
No, Lake Okeechobee is a natural lake, which comprises a shallow basin in the earth.
How Was Lake Okeechobee Formed?
Geologists believe Lake Okeechobee formed 6,000 years ago when ocean waters receded and left water in the shallow depression that is Lake Okeechobee’s lakebed.
Are There a Lot of Alligators in Lake Okeechobee?
An approximated one million alligators live in Florida. These reptiles are commonly called gators throughout the southeastern U.S. and Texas. There are so many gators in Florida and the other southern states that gators have their own hunting season.
There are an estimated 30,000 Lake Okeechobee alligators, and it is the most gator-infested lake in Florida. The Okeechobee gators seem to know when their hunting season begins and ends. It is said that you will not see the daddy gators between August 15 and November 1 at Lake Okeechobee.
Daddy gators are the biggest gators. Florida wildlife officials count the estimated amount of gators in a water body by shining flashlights on the water at night. Gator eyes shine in the water at night. They can discern the daddy gators from the smaller gators too. Florida classifies large gators as over nine-feet long. As of July 2023, an estimated 1,700 gators 9-feet long or longer live in Lake Okeechobee.
Should You Swim in Lake Okeechobee?
No, you should not swim in this lake. Because of all the gators in Lake Okeechobee, it is not a swimming hotspot. Gators hunt for food between dusk and dawn. You should not take small animals and children near gator-infested waters, especially during their hunting times. During the hottest time of the day for about two hours, gators are not too active.
Is Lake Okeechobee the Largest Lake in the US?
Lake Okeechobee is the largest lake in Florida and the second largest lake in the U.S. Lake Superior is the largest lake in the U.S.
How Deep Is the Water in Lake Okeechobee?
The Lake Okeechobee depth depends on rainfall or no rainfall. Besides the rain, Fisheating Creek, Kissimmee River, Lake Istokpoga, Taylor Creek, and smaller sloughs supply water to Lake Okeechobee. Before 1937, its water slowly flowed south to the Everglades, and the region ebbed and flowed naturally according to the rainfall amounts.
The South Florida Water Management District (WMD) considers nine-feet deep the optimal water level for Lake Okeechobee. After the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) built the Okeechobee Waterway in 1937, the Everglades began suffering from water shortages. Florida has been mitigating Okeechobee’s decreased water flow to the Everglades since then.
What Year Did Lake Okeechobee Dry Up?
Florida’s last drought from late March 2006 to late August 2008 devastated the Everglade’s ecosystem, along with other natural Floridian areas. This three-year drought affected every region in Florida at one time or another. This drought especially impacted outdoor recreation negatively.
In 2007, Lake Okeechobee served as a “canary in the coal mine” for southern Florida’s water supplies. It dropped to its lowest level on record at about four-feet deep. Boats and boat docks lied dry on the lakebed. Two bands that crossed northern and southern Florida from east to west experienced the most extensive, severe, and continuous moisture deficit.
Lake Okeechobee lies in that southern band. A drought like 2006 to 2008 is only expected once in 100 years in Florida. The previous severe drought in Florida happened in 1998. The most severe recorded droughts in Florida occurred in 1906, 1927, 1945, 1950, 1955, 1961, 1968, 1980, 1984, 1998, and 2006.
Can You Eat the Fish that You Catch from Lake Okeechobee?
Lake Okeechobee fishing proves stupendous! It is nationally recognized as a superior largemouth bass and black crappie fishery. The name “Okeechobee” translates from two words in the Seminole language family: “oki = water”, “chobi = big”. Big water does indeed describe Lake Okeechobee.
Do not eat fish from Lake Okeechobee. The Florida Department of Health advises against it. According to its website, “Fish tested from water with blue-green algae show that cyanotoxins don’t accumulate much in the edible parts — muscle or fillet — of fish, but can in other organs. The safest choice is to not harvest or eat these fish.”
Lake Okeechobee Size
Lake Okeechobee is Florida’s largest lake and the second largest body of fresh water in the contiguous United States. Lake Okeechobee covers 436,000 acres or 681-square miles, give or take a few acres or miles. Okeechobee water levels depend on rainfall—and hurricanes. Lake Superior is the largest lake in the U.S.
We hope this article answers some of your Lake Okeechobee questions. Lake Okeechobee is a bucket list-must lake. Every lake lubber should have at least one Okeechobee experience. It is advised for first-time Okeechobee boaters and canoers/kayakers to conduct navigational research on Okeechobee’s vast watery expanse.