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Officials unable to drain rising water out of Lake Tarpon

PALM HARBOR — The water in Lake Tarpon is as high as it's ever been, lapping at the tops of seawalls.

Nervous lakeside homeowners are calling the Southwest Florida Water Management District, all of them asking the same question: Why isn't the agency opening the gates to the Lake Tarpon Outfall Canal to drain the excess lake water into Old Tampa Bay?

The answer: It's not that simple.

"At this point, the gate's wide open," Swiftmud spokeswoman Robyn Felix said Monday. "The problem is, the tides and the wind are pushing water in while we're pushing water out."

She said the agency has received at least 40 phone calls about the situation.

The canal was built to control flooding in Lake Tarpon. But on Sunday morning, high tide in Tampa Bay was much higher than normal due to Tropical Storm Debby. Swiftmud had to close the canal gate because the tide was forcing water up the canal and into the lake.

"Residents are saying they've never seen the water that high. It could take several days to get the water out," Felix said, because rainwater is draining into the lake, and water levels in Tampa Bay are still high.