MIAMI - It's confirmed: Florida's deepening drought has dehydrated Lake Okeechobee to a record low.

The lake officially stood at 8.97 feet above sea level early Wednesday, matching its lowest level since record-keeping began in 1932.

Then, it didn't rain again, and the sun evaporated water out of the lake again.

"We know we're sitting at a new record low," Randy Smith, a spokesman for the South Florida Water Management District, said Wednesday evening. "But how much of a record low, we won't know until the morning."

The most severe water restrictions in South Florida history already are in effect and are expected to continue well into the summer rainy season.

Those lawn-crunching, plant-shriveling measures reduced water use by between 25 percent and 30 percent, Smith said, but nature provided precious little assistance.

An average of just 7 inches of rain has fallen across the region during the past five months, according to district gauges, well below normal.

"There's nothing coming back in," Smith said. "There's just no recharge whatsoever."

Lake Okeechobee serves as the primary backup water supply for millions of South Floridians.

But when the lake drops below a certain level, its waters cannot be used to replenish the regional supply.

Experts said above-average rainfall will be required for months - and maybe years - to return regional water supplies to normal.

"Water managers anticipated for many months that scarce rainfall across South Florida would bring new record lows," Carol Ann Wehle, the district's executive director, said in an official statement.

"We are preparing for continued dry conditions and using all available emergency measures to protect drinking water supplies, meet the needs of our farmers and safeguard the environment, but the regional impacts of a drought are extreme and far-reaching," she said.

Forecasters said significant rain could moisten parts of the region Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but only stray showers are expectedtoday.

"The forecast is not very encouraging," Smith said. "And we need the rain to fall on the right place."