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Army Corps says Lake Okeechobee is in 'great shape' for Hurricane Irma's arrival

Federal officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Wednesday that if projected rainfall estimates remain at between eight to 10 inches over Lake Okeechobee and Irma douses the lake as a category 3 hurricane, the vulnerable Herbert Hoover dike will be at "low risk" for flooding, and the lake is in "great shape" for the storm's arrival.

The corps started discharging water into estuaries east and west of Lake Okeechobee on Tuesday and will continue through Friday, said Laureen Borochaner, chief of engineering for the U.S. Army Corps during a conference call with reporters Wednesday. Preparations also include drawing down canals to levels lower than normal pre-storm readiness and discharging as much water as possible to tide through all coastal structures.

She said the combination of wind and water could lead to some flooding in Clewiston, at the site of one of the construction projects there but the corps has pre-positioned staff to monitor conditions after the storm passes.

"The overall amount of Lake Okeechobee is a low risk condition," Borochaner said, adding that because the lake is at 13.5 feet, one foot lower than it was last year and within the 12.5 to 15.5 foot range. "We will continue to monitor storm forecasts."  

Borochaner said that if the storm arrives as a category 4 or 5, the conditions could become more threatening to the lake. 

"It depends on how much precipitation falls in and around the lake,'' said John Campbell, corps spokesperson.