South Florida Water Management District prepares for heavy flooding

South Florida may receive heavy rain Sunday or Monday

DAVIE, Fla. – South Florida water managers are preparing for potential flooding that might come Sunday or Monday because of rain generated by a tropical wave currently in the Atlantic Ocean.

"It does have all indications it is going to be very wet," South Florida Water Management District spokesman Randy Smith said.

District officials aren't just watching the approaching system, but they are already acting on it.

"While you are sleeping, we are going to have canals and operators working on this flood-control system bringing the water levels down," Smith said.

At the district's nerve center, they handle over 2,000 miles of canals, 70 major pumping stations and hundreds of water control structures, mostly by electronic telemetry.

"Storm water gates, pumping stations -- any of that can be controlled here in the control room from West Palm Beach," Smith said.

But managers need on average at least 24 hours to draw down most canals.

"We don't tell the water managers a 30-percent chance of rain today," SFWM meteorologist Geoff Shaughnessy said. "We don't get away with that one. We have to tell them when, where and how much."

Shaughnessy has forecast for the district for 24 years. He said it doesn't take a hurricane or even a tropical storm to give him a sleepless night.

"Some of our heaviest rainfall events have come from systems that are very disorganized," he said. "Look at the system up in Louisiana 10-12 days ago. Very poorly organized and slow moving."

Another concern for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is Lake Okeechobee, which is hovering at around 15 feet right now. It is a 143-mile-long dyke built in the 1930s.

"The concern would be that you lose control of some of that seepage and you would have a washout. Then you are talking breach," Smith said.

Heavy sustained rain on or north of the lake could be catastrophic.

"The problem is it jumps much faster than the corps can bring it down," Smith said.

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