Sen. Alan Hays proposes funding to clean up Lake Apopka

Article from the DailyCommercial.com

State Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, said Friday he is proposing in this year’s state budget to allocate $20 million to clean up Lake Apopka.

“I am just as dedicated to cleaning up that lake appropriately as I was a year ago,” he said. “That lake can be a viable economic engine for all of Central Florida if we just could get it cleaned up.”

The cleanup would be funded from general revenue and Amendment 1 money, Hays said. Amendment 1 requires the Florida Legislature to spend a specific percentage of special tax revenue on land and water conservation programs.

Lake Apopka is south of SR 48. Two-thirds of it is in Orange County and a third is in Lake County.

The state’s fourth largest lake previously was a “world-class bass fishery but impacts to the lake over many decades led to the lake to be named Florida’s most polluted large lake,” the St. Johns River Water Management District reported.
There are several ongoing projects to restore the lake, including harvesting gizzard shad, which removes the nutrients contained in the fish bodies, the construction of a 760-acre wetland along the northwest shore of the lake and planting of aquatic vegetation, Water Management documents state.

“The lake is still high in nitrogen and phosphorous with phosphorous the thing we are most concerned about,” said Mike Perry, executive director of the Lake County Water Authority. “It fuels all that algae and shades out the desirable vegetation at the bottom of the lake. Algae will not let enough sunlight through to allow the vegetation to grow. It is what fish need to habitat and reproduce.”

Jay Brawley, initiative leader for Lake Apopka and the upper Ocklawaha River Basin, said the phosphorous in the lake is related to previous farming of agriculture around Lake Apopka.

“From the 1800s up to the mid 1900s the farming had a big influence on putting nutrients in the lake,” he said.
But since the efforts have begun to restore the lake, Brawley said there have been improvements in reduction of the phosphorous levels.

Even so, he said the phosphorus concentrations “are still higher than what our target is, (which) is 55 parts per billion.”

“The current concentrations fluctuate between 100 and 250 parts per billion, depending on the seasons and changes throughout the year,” he said.

In a presentation to Lake County commissioners this week, Perry reported lake levels are up in the Clermont Chain of Lakes and the Harris Chain of Lakes, with the exception of Lake Apopka, which is three quarters of a foot below the regulatory schedule.

“It is a large lake, but it has a fairly small water shed compared to the size of the lake,” he said. “It has to rain on or near the lake to make an impact.”

As a result, Perry said Water Management is not able to open the dam to treat the lake’s water, which then flows through the Harris Chain of Lakes.

When the dam is opened that water is treated through the water authority’s nutrient reduction facility, an offline alum treatment system, which treats every drop of water before it goes to the other lakes downstream.

Water has not come out of Lake Apopka since 2012, Perry said.

“The reason the dam is closed at Lake Apopka goes back to when we were in a severe drought and all the dams were closed on the Ocklawaha chain,” Brawley said. “What we have seen since then is we appear to be coming out of the severe drought.”

The lack of water coming from Apopka limits the improvements that can be made to water flowing in the other lakes, Perry said.

“The lakes downstream don’t benefit from the clean water that would have been discharged downstream,” he said. “The lakes are not as bad as they used to be but not as good as they could have been if we were able to provide much cleaner, clearer water over the last three years.”

Brawley said it will take another six to 12 inches of rain in Lake Apopka in order for the dam to be opened up.

Halifax Media Group contributed material to this report.

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