Lake Okeechobee
Overview
 
Lake Okeechobee locally referred to as The Lake or The Big O, is the largest freshwater lake
Lake
A lake is a body of relatively still fresh or salt water of considerable size, localized in a basin, that is surrounded by land. Lakes are inland and not part of the ocean and therefore are distinct from lagoons, and are larger and deeper than ponds. Lakes can be contrasted with rivers or streams,...

 in the state
U.S. state
A U.S. state is any one of the 50 federated states of the United States of America that share sovereignty with the federal government. Because of this shared sovereignty, an American is a citizen both of the federal entity and of his or her state of domicile. Four states use the official title of...

 of Florida
Florida
Florida is a state in the southeastern United States, located on the nation's Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico, to the north by Alabama and Georgia and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of 18,801,310 as measured by the 2010 census, it...

. It is the seventh largest freshwater lake in the United States and the second largest freshwater lake contained entirely within the lower 48 states. Okeechobee covers 730 square miles (1,890.7 km²), approximately half the size of the state of Rhode Island
Rhode Island
The state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, more commonly referred to as Rhode Island , is a state in the New England region of the United States. It is the smallest U.S. state by area...

, and is exceptionally shallow for a lake of its size, with an average depth of only 9 feet (3 m).
Encyclopedia
Lake Okeechobee locally referred to as The Lake or The Big O, is the largest freshwater lake
Lake
A lake is a body of relatively still fresh or salt water of considerable size, localized in a basin, that is surrounded by land. Lakes are inland and not part of the ocean and therefore are distinct from lagoons, and are larger and deeper than ponds. Lakes can be contrasted with rivers or streams,...

 in the state
U.S. state
A U.S. state is any one of the 50 federated states of the United States of America that share sovereignty with the federal government. Because of this shared sovereignty, an American is a citizen both of the federal entity and of his or her state of domicile. Four states use the official title of...

 of Florida
Florida
Florida is a state in the southeastern United States, located on the nation's Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico, to the north by Alabama and Georgia and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of 18,801,310 as measured by the 2010 census, it...

. It is the seventh largest freshwater lake in the United States and the second largest freshwater lake contained entirely within the lower 48 states. Okeechobee covers 730 square miles (1,890.7 km²), approximately half the size of the state of Rhode Island
Rhode Island
The state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, more commonly referred to as Rhode Island , is a state in the New England region of the United States. It is the smallest U.S. state by area...

, and is exceptionally shallow for a lake of its size, with an average depth of only 9 feet (3 m). The lake is divided between Glades
Glades County, Florida
Glades County is a county located in the U.S. state of Florida. As of 2000, the population was 10,576. The U.S. Census Bureau 2005 estimate for the county is 11,252 . Its county seat is Moore Haven, Florida.- History :...

, Okeechobee
Okeechobee County, Florida
Okeechobee County is a county located in the state of Florida. As of 2000, the population was 35,910. According to 2005 U.S. Census estimates, its population had grown to 39,836. The county seat is Okeechobee, Florida. The county comprises the Okeechobee, Florida Micropolitan Statistical Area.-...

, Martin
Martin County, Florida
Martin County is a county in the U.S. state of Florida. As of 2000, the population was 126,731. The U.S. Census Bureau 2008 estimate for the county is 138,660. Its county seat is Stuart, Florida.- History :...

, Palm Beach
Palm Beach County, Florida
Palm Beach County is the largest county in the state of Florida in total area, and third in population. As of 2010, the county's estimated population was 1,320,134, making it the twenty-eighth most populous in the United States...

, and Hendry
Hendry County, Florida
Hendry County is a county located in the U.S. state of Florida. As of 2000, the population was 36,210. The U.S. Census Bureau 2007 estimate for the county is 39,611 . Its county seat is La Belle. The county comprises the Clewiston, Florida, Micropolitan Statistical Area.-History:Hendry County...

 counties. Maps of Florida show that all five of these counties meet at one point near the center of the lake.

History

Lake Okeechobee sits in a shallow geological trough that also underlies the Kissimmee River
Kissimmee River
The Kissimmee River is a river in south-central Florida, United States.-Course:The Kissimmee River arises in Osceola County as the outflow from East Lake Tohopekaliga, passing through Lake Tohopekaliga, Lake Cypress, Lake Hatchineha and Lake Kissimmee...

 Valley and the Everglades
Everglades
The Everglades are subtropical wetlands in the southern portion of the U.S. state of Florida, comprising the southern half of a large watershed. The system begins near Orlando with the Kissimmee River, which discharges into the vast but shallow Lake Okeechobee...

. The trough is underlain by clay deposits that compacted more than the limestone and sand deposits did along both coasts of peninsular Florida. Until about 6,000 years ago, the trough was dry land. As the sea level rose, the water table in Florida also rose, and rainfall increased. From 6,000 to 4,000 years ago wetlands formed in much of what is now the lake, building up peat deposits. Eventually the water flow into the area created a lake, drowning the wetlands. Along what is now the southern edge of the lake, however, the wetlands built up the layers of peat rapidly enough (eventually reaching 13 feet (4 m) to 14 feet (4.3 m) thick) to form a dam, holding back the water in the lake until it rose high enough to the flow over the shore into the Everglades. At its capacity, the lake holds 1 trillion gallons (1,000,000,000,000) of water and is the headwaters of the Everglades
Everglades
The Everglades are subtropical wetlands in the southern portion of the U.S. state of Florida, comprising the southern half of a large watershed. The system begins near Orlando with the Kissimmee River, which discharges into the vast but shallow Lake Okeechobee...

.

The name Okeechobee comes from the Hitchiti
Hitchiti
The Hitchiti were a Muskogean-speaking tribe formerly residing chiefly in a town of the same name on the east bank of the Chattahoochee River, 4 miles below Chiaha, in west Georgia. They spoke the Hitchiti language, which was mutually intelligible with Mikasuki; both tribes were part of the loose...

 words oki (water) and chubi (big), and means "big water". The oldest known name for the lake was Mayaimi
Mayaimi
The Mayaimi were a Native American people who lived around Lake Okeechobee in Florida from the beginning of the Common Era until the 17th or 18th century. The group took their name from the lake, which was then called Mayaimi, which meant "big water" in the language of the Mayaimi, Calusa, and...

(also meaning "big water"), reported by Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda
Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda
Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda was a Spanish shipwreck survivor who lived among the Indians of Florida for 17 years...

 in the 16th century. Slightly later in the 16th century René Goulaine de Laudonnière
René Goulaine de Laudonnière
René Goulaine de Laudonnière was a French Huguenot explorer and the founder of the French colony of Fort Caroline in what is now Jacksonville, Florida...

 reported hearing about a large freshwater lake in southern Florida called Serrope. By the 18th century the largely mythical lake was known to British mapmakers and chroniclers by the Spanish
Spanish language
Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

 name Laguna de Espiritu Santo. In the early 19th century it was known as Mayacco Lake or Lake Mayaca after the Mayaca people, originally from the upper reaches of the St. Johns River
St. Johns River
The St. Johns River is the longest river in the U.S. state of Florida and its most significant for commercial and recreational use. At long, it winds through or borders twelve counties, three of which are the state's largest. The drop in elevation from the headwaters to the mouth is less than ;...

, who moved near the lake in the early 18th century. The modern Port Mayaca on the east side of the lake preserves that name. The lake was also called Lake Macaco in the early 19th century.

The floor of the lake is a limestone
Limestone
Limestone is a sedimentary rock composed largely of the minerals calcite and aragonite, which are different crystal forms of calcium carbonate . Many limestones are composed from skeletal fragments of marine organisms such as coral or foraminifera....

 basin, and the lake varies in depth from 1 to 13 feet (0.3 to 4 m). Its water is somewhat murky from nutrient-enriched runoff from surrounding farmlands. The surface is above sea level
Sea level
Mean sea level is a measure of the average height of the ocean's surface ; used as a standard in reckoning land elevation...

. The lake is enclosed by the up to 30-foot (9 m) high Herbert Hoover Dike
Herbert Hoover Dike
The Herbert Hoover Dike is a dike around the waters of Lake Okeechobee in Florida.Over the years, the quality of the flood control around the lake has grown. In the 1910s, a small earthen dike was constructed. This containment was breached by the storm surge from the Great Miami Hurricane in 1926...

 built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers after a hurricane in 1928
1928 Okeechobee Hurricane
The Okeechobee hurricane, or San Felipe Segundo hurricane, was a deadly hurricane that struck the Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, and Florida in September of the 1928 Atlantic hurricane season...

 breached the old dike, flooding surrounding communities and claiming thousands of lives. Water flows into Lake Okeechobee from several sources, including the Kissimmee River
Kissimmee River
The Kissimmee River is a river in south-central Florida, United States.-Course:The Kissimmee River arises in Osceola County as the outflow from East Lake Tohopekaliga, passing through Lake Tohopekaliga, Lake Cypress, Lake Hatchineha and Lake Kissimmee...

, Fisheating Creek
Fisheating Creek
Fisheating Creek is a stream that flows into Lake Okeechobee in Florida. It is the only remaining free-flowing water course feeding into the lake, and the second-largest natural source for the lake. Most of the land surrounding the stream is either publicly owned or under conservation easements...

, Lake Istokpoga
Lake Istokpoga
Lake Istokpoga is a freshwater lake in Highlands County, Florida. The oblong-shaped lake is wide by long. Despite its area, it is very shallow, with an average depth of only . Maximum depth is . As a result, boaters must be cautious to not become stranded in muck near the shore line. Bass...

, Taylor Creek
Taylor Creek
-Water courses:*Taylor-Massey Creek , Toronto, Ontario, Canada*Taylor Creek , Washington, United States...

, and smaller sources such as Nubbin Slough and Nicodemus Slough. The Kissimmee River is the largest source, providing more than 60% of the water flowing into Lake Okeechobee. Fisheating Creek
Fisheating Creek
Fisheating Creek is a stream that flows into Lake Okeechobee in Florida. It is the only remaining free-flowing water course feeding into the lake, and the second-largest natural source for the lake. Most of the land surrounding the stream is either publicly owned or under conservation easements...

 is the second largest source for the lake, with about 9% of the total inflow. Prior to the 20th century, Lake Istokpoga
Lake Istokpoga
Lake Istokpoga is a freshwater lake in Highlands County, Florida. The oblong-shaped lake is wide by long. Despite its area, it is very shallow, with an average depth of only . Maximum depth is . As a result, boaters must be cautious to not become stranded in muck near the shore line. Bass...

 was connected to the Kissimee River by Istokpoga Creek, but during the rainy season Lake Istokpoga overflowed, with the water flowing in a 25-mile wide sheet across the Indian Prairie into Lake Okeechobee. Today Lake Istokpoga drains into Lake Okeechobee through several canals that drain the Indian Prairie, and into the Kissimmee River through a canal that has replaced Istokpoga Creek. Historically, outflow from the lake was by sheet flow over the Everglades
Everglades
The Everglades are subtropical wetlands in the southern portion of the U.S. state of Florida, comprising the southern half of a large watershed. The system begins near Orlando with the Kissimmee River, which discharges into the vast but shallow Lake Okeechobee...

, but most of the outflow has been diverted to dredged canals connecting to coastal rivers, such as the Miami River
Miami River (Florida)
The Miami River is a river in the United States state of Florida that drains out of the Everglades and runs through the Downtown and the city of Miami. The long river flows from the terminus of the Miami Canal at Miami International Airport to Biscayne Bay...

, the New River
New River (Broward County, Florida)
The New River is a river in South Florida, USA. The river originates in the Everglades and flows east. After passing through Fort Lauderdale, the river enters the Atlantic Ocean at Port Everglades cut. The river is entirely within Broward County and is composed from the junction of three main...

 on the east, and the Caloosahatchee River
Caloosahatchee River
The Caloosahatchee River is a river on the southwest Gulf Coast of Florida in the United States, approximately long. It drains rural areas on the northern edge of the Everglades northwest of Miami...

 (via the Caloosahatchee Canal and Lake Hicpochee) on the southwest.

Hurricanes

In 1926 the Great Miami Hurricane hit the Lake Okeechobee area, killing approximately 300 people. Two years later in 1928, the Okeechobee Hurricane crossed over the lake, killing thousands. The Red Cross reported a figure of 1,836 deaths which the National Weather Service
National Weather Service
The National Weather Service , once known as the Weather Bureau, is one of the six scientific agencies that make up the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the United States government...

 initially accepted, but in 2003, the number was revised to "at least 2,500". In both cases the catastrophe was caused by flooding from a storm surge
Storm surge
A storm surge is an offshore rise of water associated with a low pressure weather system, typically tropical cyclones and strong extratropical cyclones. Storm surges are caused primarily by high winds pushing on the ocean's surface. The wind causes the water to pile up higher than the ordinary sea...

 when strong winds drove water over the 6-foot (2 m) mud dike that circled the lake at the time.

After the two hurricanes, the Florida State Legislature created the "Okeechobee Flood Control District". The organization was authorized to cooperate with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in actions to prevent similar disasters. U.S. President Herbert Hoover
Herbert Hoover
Herbert Clark Hoover was the 31st President of the United States . Hoover was originally a professional mining engineer and author. As the United States Secretary of Commerce in the 1920s under Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, he promoted partnerships between government and business...

 visited the area personally, and afterward the Corps designed a new plan incorporating the construction of channels, gates and levees. The Okeechobee Waterway
Okeechobee Waterway
The Okeechobee Waterway is a man-made waterway stretching from Fort Myers on the west coast to Stuart on the east coast of Florida. It was built/finished in 1937 to provide a water route across Florida, allowing boats to pass east–west across the state rather than travelling the long route around...

 was officially opened on March 23, 1937 by a procession of boats which left Fort Myers, Florida
Fort Myers, Florida
Fort Myers is the county seat and commercial center of Lee County, Florida, United States. Its population was 62,298 in the 2010 census, a 29.23 percent increase over the 2000 figure....

 on March 22 and arrived at Stuart, Florida
Stuart, Florida
Stuart is the only incorporated city of Martin County, Florida, on Florida's Treasure Coast. The population was 14,633 at the 2000 census. As of 2007, the population recorded by the U.S. Census Bureau is 15,964....

 the following day. The dike was then named the "Herbert Hoover Dike" in honor of the president.

The 1947 Fort Lauderdale Hurricane
1947 Fort Lauderdale Hurricane
The Fort Lauderdale Hurricane was an intense Category 5 hurricane that affected the Bahamas, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi in September of the 1947 Atlantic hurricane season...

 sent an even larger storm surge to the crest of the new dike, causing it to be expanded again in the 1960s.

Three recent hurricanes, Hurricane Frances
Hurricane Frances
Hurricane Frances was the sixth named storm, the fourth hurricane, and the third major hurricane of the 2004 Atlantic hurricane season. The system crossing the open Atlantic during mid to late August, moving to the north of the Lesser Antilles while strengthening. Its outer bands affected Puerto...

, Hurricane Jeanne
Hurricane Jeanne
Hurricane Jeanne was the deadliest hurricane in the 2004 Atlantic hurricane season. It was the tenth named storm, the seventh hurricane, and the fifth major hurricane of the season, as well as the third hurricane and fourth named storm of the season to make landfall in Florida...

 and Hurricane Wilma
Hurricane Wilma
Hurricane Wilma was the most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Atlantic basin. Wilma was the twenty-second storm , thirteenth hurricane, sixth major hurricane, and fourth Category 5 hurricane of the record-breaking 2005 season...

, had no major adverse effects on communities surrounding Lake Okeechobee, even though the lake rose 18 inches after Hurricane Wilma in 2005. Tropical Storm Ernesto increased water levels by a foot in 2006, the last time it exceeded 13 feet. However, the lake's level began dropping soon after and by July 2007, it had dropped more than 4 feet to its all-time low of 8.82 feet.
In August 2008, Tropical Storm Fay
Tropical Storm Fay (2008)
Tropical Storm Fay was a tropical storm and the sixth named storm of the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season. Fay formed from a vigorous tropical wave on August 15 over the Dominican Republic...

 increased water levels to 12.22 feet above sea level, the first time it exceeded 12 feet since January 2007. Over a seven day period (including some storms that preceded Fay), about 8 inches of rain fell directly onto the lake.

National Scenic Trail

The 100-foot (30 m)-wide dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee is a part of the Florida Trail, a 1,400-mile long trail that is a National Scenic Trail
National Scenic Trail
National Scenic Trail is a designation for protected areas in the United States that consist of trails of particular natural beauty.National Scenic Trails were authorized under the National Trails System Act of 1968 along with National Historic Trails and National Recreation Trails...

. There is a well-maintained paved pathway along the majority of the perimeter. It is used by hikers and bicyclists, and is wide enough to accommodate authorized vehicles.

Fishing

The most common fish in this lake are largemouth bass
Largemouth bass
The largemouth bass is a species of black bass in the sunfish family native to North America . It is also known as widemouth bass, bigmouth, black bass, bucketmouth, Potter's fish, Florida bass, Florida largemouth, green bass, green trout, linesides, Oswego bass, southern largemouth...

, crappie
Crappie
Crappie is a genus of freshwater fish in the sunfish family of order Perciformes. The type species is P. annularis, the white crappie...

 and bluegill
Bluegill
The Bluegill is a species of freshwater fish sometimes referred to as bream, brim, or copper nose. It is a member of the sunfish family Centrarchidae of the order Perciformes.-Range and distribution:...

. Pickerel
Pickerel
Pickerel may refer to:*Esox, the genus of fish commonly known as the pickerels which includes pike and muskellunge as well as other pickerel*American pickerel*Chain pickerel*Walleye, or Yellow Pickerel * Pickerel Frog...

 have been less commonly caught.

Rim Canal

During construction of the dike, earth was excavated along the inside perimeter, resulting in a deep channel which runs along the perimeter of the lake. In most places the canal is part of the lake, but in others it is separated from the open lake by low grassy islands such as Kreamer Island
Kreamer Island
Kreamer Island is a small island in the south-easternmost part of Lake Okeechobee, Florida. Located in Palm Beach County just north of Torry Island, accessible only by airboat during the wet season and by recreational vehicles during dry season/droughts. The island was first settled in the 19th...

. During the drought of 2007-2008 this canal remained navigable while much of surrounding areas were too shallow or even above the water line. Even when the waters are higher, navigating the open lake can be tricky, whereas the rim canal is simple, so to reach a specific location in the lake it is often easiest to go around the rim canal to get close then take one of the many channels into the lake.

Environmental concerns

In 2007, during a drought, state water and wildlife managers removed thousands of truckloads of toxic mud from the lake's floor, in an effort to restore the lake's natural sandy base and create clearer water and better habitat for wildlife. The mud contained elevated levels of arsenic
Arsenic
Arsenic is a chemical element with the symbol As, atomic number 33 and relative atomic mass 74.92. Arsenic occurs in many minerals, usually in conjunction with sulfur and metals, and also as a pure elemental crystal. It was first documented by Albertus Magnus in 1250.Arsenic is a metalloid...

 and other pesticides. According to tests from the South Florida Water Management District, arsenic levels on the northern part of the lake bed were as much as four times the limit for residential land. Independent tests found the mud too polluted for use on agricultural or commercial lands, and therefore difficult to dispose of on land.

Through early 2008, the lake remained well below normal levels, with large portions of the lake bed exposed above the water line. During this time, portions of the lake bed, covered in organic matter, dried out and caught fire. In late August 2008, Tropical Storm Fay inundated Florida with record amounts of rain. Lake Okeechobee received almost a 4-foot increase in water level, including local run-off from the tributaries. This quick rise, mixed with largely polluted run-off from local farmlands, has killed thousands of fish.

The lake in popular culture

Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades
Everglades
The Everglades are subtropical wetlands in the southern portion of the U.S. state of Florida, comprising the southern half of a large watershed. The system begins near Orlando with the Kissimmee River, which discharges into the vast but shallow Lake Okeechobee...

 feature as a backdrop for the 1951 Gary Cooper
Gary Cooper
Frank James Cooper, known professionally as Gary Cooper, was an American film actor. He was renowned for his quiet, understated acting style and his stoic, but at times intense screen persona, which was particularly well suited to the many Westerns he made...


film, Distant Drums
Distant Drums
Distant Drums is a 1951 film directed by Raoul Walsh and starring Gary Cooper. It is set during the Second Seminole War in the 1840s, with Cooper playing an Army captain who destroys a fort held by the Seminole Indians then retreats into the Everglades while under chase.The actual location of the...

.

'The Okeechobee' is mentioned in the refrain of a popular C&W (and crossover) hit "Seminole Wind
Seminole Wind
Seminole Wind is a studio album released in 1992 by American country music artist John Anderson. This is also known as his comeback album. It features the singles "Straight Tequila Night", "Let Go of the Stone", "When It Comes to You", and the title track, all of which reached the country top ten,...

," written and performed by John Anderson
John Anderson (musician)
John David Anderson is an American country music artist with a successful career that has lasted more than 30 years...

 (1992).

Lake Okeechobee is the setting of a climactic scene in Carl Hiaasen
Carl Hiaasen
Carl Hiaasen is an American journalist, columnist and novelist.- Early years :Born in 1953 and raised in Plantation, Florida, of Norwegian heritage, Hiaasen was the first of four children and the son of a lawyer, Kermit Odel, and teacher, Patricia...

's 2002 novel Basket Case
Basket Case (novel)
Basket Case, published in 2002, is the ninth novel by Carl Hiaasen. It is a classic Hiaasen crime novel, set in Florida. It opens with the death of James Stomarti , an ostensibly washed-up former lead man of "Jimmy and the Slut Puppies"....

(Ch. 28).

Lake Okeechobee is the setting of a significant part of Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston was an American folklorist, anthropologist, and author during the time of the Harlem Renaissance...

's novel Their Eyes Were Watching God
Their Eyes Were Watching God
Their Eyes Were Watching God is a 1937 novel and the best-known work by African American writer Zora Neale Hurston. Set in central and southern Florida in the early 20th century, the novel garnered attention and controversy at the time of its publication, and has come to be regarded as a seminal...

, and the movie of the same name. Janie and Tea Cake go there to work "on the muck
Muck
Muck can refer to:*Muck *Muck, Scotland, an island in Scotland*Isle of Muck, a small island connected by sand spit to Portmuck, County Antrim, Northern Ireland*Muck , a number of actions...

."

The lake also features in the refrain of the Lisa Brokop
Lisa brokop
Lisa Brokop is a Canadian country music singer/songwriter and actress. Active since 1990 in the country music field, she has released a total of six studio albums, and has charted more than twenty singles on the country music charts in her native Canada...

 song Wildflower (Hey, Do You Know Me
Hey, Do You Know Me
Hey, Do You Know Me is the sixth studio album by Canadian country music singer-songwriter Lisa Brokop. It was released on January 11, 2005 by Curb Records.-Track listing:#"Hey, Do You Know Me" - 3:54#"Wildflower" - 3:16#"What I'd Miss" - 3:38...

, 2005) "...sittin' on the bank of the Okeechobee, watchin' that river run."

It is one of the featured lakes in the multi-platform Activision game, Rapala's Fishing Frenzy.

Lake Okeechobee is mentioned in the Hank Williams, Jr.
Hank Williams, Jr.
Randall Hank Williams , better known as Hank Williams, Jr. and Bocephus, is an American country singer-songwriter and musician. His musical style is often considered a blend of Southern rock, blues, and traditional country...

 song "Dixie on My Mind
Dixie on My Mind
"Dixie on My Mind" is a 1981 single written and recorded by Hank Williams Jr.. "Dixie on My Mind" would be Hank Williams Jr.'s fourth number one on the country chart. The single went to number one for one week and spent nine weeks on the country chart...

" (1981).
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