South Florida just had its driest January on record, but water supplies are holding steady thanks to a soggy fall, water managers said Wednesday.
South Florida averaged just .16 inches of rainfall during January, about 8 percent of the average rainfall for the 16-county region that stretches from Orlando to the Keys.
That was the lowest January rain total since record keeping began in 1932, according to the South Florida Water Management District.
That’s thanks to near-record rainfall in October that followed a rainy summer and boasted water supplies after months of lingering drought.
Lake Okeechobee, South Florida’s primary backup water supply, on Wednesday was 13.26 feet above sea level. That’s more than a foot below normal, but still within the targeted range of 12.5 to 15.5 feet that the Army Corps of Engineers tries to maintain in the lake.
The lake is also almost one foot higher than this time last year.
Last year, decisions to dump lake water out to sea for flood control followed by a prolonged drought dropped the lake to its lowest point since 2008 and dried out marshes rimming the lake that provide vital wildlife habitat.
The low lake level also helped trigger emergency watering restrictions for all of South Florida.
Florida is in the midst of its winter-to-spring dry season, with forecasters expecting drier than normal conditions to continue.
Year-round watering rules remain in place, which allows two days of watering per week in Broward and Miami-Dade Counties and up to three days of watering per week in most of Palm Beach County.
“We are closely monitoring water levels because the entire region is likely to experience several more months of dry weather,” said Susan Sylvester, district chief of water control operations.