How It All Began

To better understand Lee County’s water quality issues, it helps to look at how the Lake Okeechobee flood control program began:

  • Until the 1920s, Lake Okeechobee overflowed whenever rain south of Orlando swelled the twisting Kissimmee River, which fed the Lake. The regular overflow rolled into the Everglades, forming the River of Grass.
  • Ranchers along the Kissimmee River persuaded the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to straighten the River so they could have larger and drier pastures. This resulted in a greater quantity of poor quality water flowing into the Lake at a much faster rate. (The Corps now is restoring the Kissimmee River bends.)
  • In an attempt to develop Central and South Florida, Hamilton Disston, one of the state's first real estate developers, dredged a canal that connected Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchie River to the West in 1881. In 1924, a similar man-made connection was made to the St. Lucie Estuary on the East Coast. The two connections, now known as the C-43 and the C-44 canals, served as drains to help manage the Lake's water levels. For details on C-43, click here.
  • To compound matters, a 1928 hurricane caused Lake Okeechobee to overflow, killing thousands of people. Then President Herbert Hoover responded by ordering a dike built to ensure the flooding would not reoccur, which cut off water to the Everglades and started a massive flood control project that required the Lake to be drained whenever water levels rose too high for the dike to hold them. The St. Lucie Canal and Caloosahatchee River subsequently received most of the overflow from the Lake.

Fast Facts

Years of sediments washing down the Kissimmee River have resulted in a mud pit chock-full of algae-causing phosphorous and covering 300,000 cubic yards of Lake Okeechobee’s bottom.

More Fast Facts

Related Links

Caloosahatchee River Citizens Association (C.R.C.A.):

South Florida Water Management District:

More Links


Caloosahatchee Watershed:
The area of land that catches rain and snow and drains or seeps into a marsh, stream, river, lake or groundwater is a watershed. They are delineated by the U.S. Geological Survey into a nationwide system and the Caloosahatchee Watershed is part of this system.

South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD):
Florida agency whose mission is to manage and protect water resources of the region by balancing and improving water quality, flood control, natural systems and water supply.

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