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After Irma, New Flooding Along Major Florida Waterways

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Lake Jesup was expected to crest Thursday, a relief to homeowners on its shores. Photo by Amy Green

It’s not so easy getting to Denise Grasso’s home these days. I climb into a Seminole County Fire Department truck, which takes me up her flooded street to her front door.

“The water is up to my house on all sides now, including in the front yard,” she says. “There’s actually a bobber, a fishing bobber, floating in the water in the front yard. So that’s how you know you’re on a lake that’s flooding.”

Grasso and her husband moved in January to their home on Lake Jesup, along the St. Johns River in central Florida. They experienced no damage during Irma but since then have watched the lake creep ever closer.

Inside their furniture is on blocks. The couple plans on evacuating if the home floods. Grasso glances toward her neighbors’ yard, which looks like another shallow part of the lake. The high water rippling with the breeze.

“Actually there is a hyacinth, which is a water plant out there that floated in that bloomed today,” she says. “So I sent them a picture of that. Everything you see in their yard, like it looks like there’s grass right there. That is not their grass. That’s coming off of the lake.”

Lake Jesup is part of the St. Johns River, the state’s longest river. Photo by Amy Green

For most Floridians life is near normal more than a week after Irma, but for residents on some of the state’s biggest waterways the ordeal isn’t over.

Across Florida there are new fears about flooding more than a week after Irma raked the state. At the peninsula’s center Lake Okeechobee is expected to rise to near historic heights, and water managers are rushing to drain the state’s largest lake before too much water pressures its aging earthen dike, threatening communities surrounding the lake they call, the Big O.

The problem is slow-flowing storm water draining from tributaries into major waterways. Ed Garland of the St. Johns River Water Management District says for the state’s longest river some of these tributaries span dozens of miles, from as far west as Gainesville.

“The thing is the river only drops an average of an inch a mile in those 310 miles,” he says. “So it’s only a 30-foot drop. So this is an extremely – they call them lazy rivers – this is a lazy river.”

Along the St. Johns homeowners on lakes Harney and Jesup have experienced flooding, and more is possible. But the north-flowing river is receding, and already hard-hit Jacksonville is expected to be spared more high water. Managers are diverting water from the river’s headwaters in central Florida to the Indian River Lagoon to help ease the deluge.

The high water brought an alligator into Kim Woodham’s yard. Photo by Amy Green

Back on Lake Jesup the water is within a few feet of Kim Woodham’s home, having risen above her dock and spilled over her sea wall. She describes her yard as like a swamp.

“This morning I was back there taking some pictures, and then all of a sudden a large gator just kind of lifted up,” she says. “I think he was on the dock, but you can’t see it because it’s under water, and was like swimming by me. And I was like, I’m getting out of here.”

She and her 16-year-old son have fortified the home with sandbags. They hope the water doesn’t rise too much more.


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Amy Green

About Amy Green

Reporter and Producer

Amy Green covers the environment for 90.7 News. She is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a regular contributor for NPR, PEOPLE, Newsweek, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor and many other top news organizations. Her in-progress book on the Everglades is under contract with Johns ... Read Full Bio »