A look at LWDD then and now
The Lake Worth Drainage District was established on June 15, 1915 with a three member Board of Supervisors whose mission was to reclaim land within its boundaries. Prior to the creation of the District, a considerable amount of drainage work had already been completed by several entities such as the State of Florida, the Palm Beach Farms Land Company, the Model Land Company and the Boston & Florida Atlantic Coast Land Company. In addition, private landowners like the Bradley and Lyman, and other farmers had dredged drainage canals throughout the area. Although small drainage systems had been created, a cohesive long term drainage plan was needed for the future expansion of what is now known as Palm Beach County.
In the spring of 1916, Orrin Randolph, Chief Engineer for the newly created District, presented his first report to the Board of Supervisors. This report contained 127 pages detailing a plan of means and methods for draining the lands within the boundaries of the District was submitted in compliance with Chapter 6458 of the 1913 Session Laws of the State of Florida. At that time, the District consisted of 129,317 acres of land and 3,400 acres of water. Rectangular in shape, the District extended 26 miles in length and 8 miles in width. Population records of 1916 showed there were approximately 6,500 owners of property within the District making the average ownership equal to 20 acres per capita. Approximately 400 farmers were cultivating an estimated 5,000 acres of land, principally vegetables for distribution to northern markets.
In his report, Orrin Randolph identified the areas within the District that could not safely be relied upon for agricultural purposes and outlined the design parameters needed for future drainage. Randolph stated, “Provisions for artificial drainage would absolutely be necessary in order to provide a run-off rapid enough to prevent the destruction of crops as a result of accumulated excess water on the land.” Thus, Randolph’s extensive report was adopted by the Board of Supervisors as the Plan of Reclamation for the District. The implementation of this plan would forever change the local landscape.
South Florida’s abundant agricultural resources served as the catalyst upon which prosperous and populous cites were built. This prosperity, then and now, is a result of the water management plan introduced by Orrin Randolph and adopted by the District 100 years ago as the Plan of Reclamation. This plan created a large network of drainage canals providing flood control and water supply which remarkably still functions today for over 700,000 residents and thousands of acres of farm land.
Click here to watch a short video clip from the District’s Centennial Celebration on June 17, 2015.
Is your community ready?
Florida’s hurricane season begins on June 1st and ends on November 30th. Based on historical weather records dating back to the 1950s, a typical season will average 12 tropical storms with sustained winds of at least 39 miles per hour, of which 6 may turn into hurricanes with winds of 74 miles per hour or more. In addition to high winds, hurricanes and tropical storms can bring torrential rainfall. These severe storms can produce localized flooding which may temporarily inundate secondary detention areas including streets, sidewalks, driveways and lawns. This temporary flooding can be exacerbated by poorly maintained community drainage systems which may cause residential buildings to flood.
While weather predictions are becoming more sophisticated, forecasters are still unable to accurately predict where a storm will make landfall. The likelihood of flooding depends on a several variables such as rainfall volume, ground moisture and local terrain. The Lake Worth Drainage District works closely with the South Florida Water Management District and Palm Beach County Emergency Management to manage severe weather events. Communities must also do their part to help prevent residential flooding.
How can communities prepare for severe storms events?
The most important steps a community can take to prepare for a severe storm event is inspection and maintenance of its drainage infrastructure. Community drainage systems and infrastructure can include inlets, discharge control structures, connecting pipes and lakes. Proper maintenance of these drainage systems ensures unobstructed flow of stormwater and fully operational equipment. Inspection and maintenance of the drainage system is the sole responsibility of the community. However, District staff are available to assist with any questions. On-site visits can also be arranged to discuss the drainage system in detail.
Community flood preparedness includes:
- Locating and reviewing the community’s storm plan
- Identifying the location of discharge control structures, inlets and other drainage infrastructure
- Inspecting the system, clearing blockages and making needed repairs
- Testing operable discharge control structures by opening and closing the wheel mechanism
- Staying informed, and watching the District’s Getting to Know Your Drainage System video for maintenance and operation tips. Click here to watch.
The District recommends that each community establish a Drainage Committee whose role is to provide for the maintenance and operation of the drainage system. Drainage Committees may consist of board members, residents and/or property managers. All members of the Drainage Committee should register with the District. This registration process ensures the District knows who to contact and where to send important weather alerts and instructions. A simple form to assist in the registration process is available on the District’s website. Click here to download the form.
Community’s use of operable discharge control structures
Stormwater drainage in this region is provided by a three-tiered drainage system: neighborhood drainage systems, the Lake Worth Drainage District secondary canals and the South Florida Water Management District primary canals. Stormwater discharges must be coordinated for each tier at appropriate times and rates. Click here to read more about the regional three-tiered system visit the District’s website.
After a storm event, temporary street flooding is expected until the natural progression of drainage occurs. If flooding is severe and roads are impassable, communities may request to open their operable discharge control structures to increase the rate of stormwater discharge.
Authorization from the District to open structures is mandatory and is only granted for emergency situations and when District canals are at low enough elevations to accept the increased discharge from neighborhood systems. Opening an operable discharge control structure without authorization may put a community in jeopardy as canal water may back-flow into the community’s lakes. Click here to view the procedures for requesting authorization to open an operable discharge control structures.
Understanding what to expect can calm fears
Depending on the volume and duration of rainfall, it is expected that community streets, sidewalks, driveways and lawns may temporarily flood. These areas are designed to act as secondary detention areas. This flooding is temporary and will begin to recede after the event has passed.
Stay indoors during severe storm events. Do not attempt to walk in flooded areas. Flood water may be unsanitary and there may be downed power lines or other hazards that are not visible. Also, do not attempt to drive through flooded areas. Vehicles can become unstable and float in only a few inches of water. Canal banks may fail and roadways may be affected by sinkholes. The location of roads and sidewalks may not be discernible from canals and lakes. To learn more about driving through flooded areas, click here to watch the U.S. National Weather Services Turn Around Don’t Drown public service announcement.
Listen to and follow emergency management instructions via the television or radio and take appropriate actions to keep yourself, family and property safe. In most circumstances, emergency personnel will not be deployed during a severe weather event. District personnel will be monitoring weather conditions, canal elevations and coordinating efforts with other emergency agencies. Appropriate measures will be taken to provide flood relief.
Flood protection does not mean flood proof. No system, no matter how well designed, is 100% flood proof. If flood water is nearing your home, contact the District’s storm line at 561-498-5363, and press Option 2 to speak to on-call staff or to leave a message. District staff will be dispatched as soon as it is safe to deploy crews. Always call 911 for life-threatening flooding emergencies.
Conserving limited water resources while providing comprehensive flood protection
The Lake Worth Drainage District plays a critical role in balancing the water supply needs of both urban and agricultural users by conserving water resources to meet demands, while also providing comprehensive flood control for our ever-growing population. Florida is fortunate to receive more than 50 inches of rainfall a year on average. A significant amount of rain falls during South Florida’s wet season which typically runs from June through October, replenishing both surface and groundwater supplies.
Regional groundwater levels must be maintained to supply wellfields for numerous municipal water utilities that deliver water to our homes and businesses, and to prevent the migration of saltwater from the ocean which could permanently contaminate drinking water supplies. During dry periods, groundwater levels tend to slowly recede in response to less rain and high evaporation. When this occurs, water managers look to large regional storage areas including Lake Okeechobee and the Water Conservation Areas as a source of supplemental water. Water from these sources is released into the canal network to raise the level of water in the canals. This water seeps through the sandy soils to recharge the groundwater and return the water table to its normal elevation.
At the same time, when canal elevations reach their peak, excess stormwater must often be discharged to the ocean to avoid flooding. These discharges can impact the natural environment. However, providing adequate drainage to the region is a priority in order to protect human health and safety as well as preventing significant property damage.
Water levels are continuously monitored throughout the District’s 500-mile canal network to maintain sufficient elevations to conserve water for water supply purposes. Depending upon conditions, operational decisions are made to open water control gates and release water to minimize the possibility of flooding, or to hold back water and pump additional flow into the system for water supply purposes. For 100 years, the District has successfully managed our water resources to conserve water and mitigate water supply issues that our region experiences.