Message from Executive Director Dr. Ann Shortelle

Lake improvement projects add to celebration of Lakes Appreciation Month

July 22, 2021

A view of Lake Apopka from the shore

Lake Apopka’s water quality is improving as part of the District’s work and is a focus of the month-long Lakes Appreciation Month.

The St. Johns River Water Management District works year-round to protect Florida’s treasured waterways as part of our core missions of water quality, water supply and natural systems. These water resources include nearly 1,500 lakes within our 18-county District — a good portion of the more than 7,800 natural lakes with a surface area of one acre or more statewide. These beautiful lakes are a daily reminder for District staff of the importance of our work and are at the center of Lakes Appreciation Month.

This annual observance comes as we celebrate a recent milestone with the completion of a $2.7 million maintenance and improvement project — one in partnership with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — to the nearly 20-year-old Lake Apopka Marsh Flow-Way (MFW). The 760-acre MFW, at our Lake Apopka North Shore restoration area, is a recirculating wetland designed to filter about 40 percent of the lake’s volume each year, removing algae, suspended sediments and any other particles and their associated nutrients from the lake’s water. The MFW began operation in November 2003.

Lake Apopka (headwaters of the Ocklawaha Chain of Lakes and river), and central Florida’s original tourist attraction based on its world class bass fishery, has experienced persistent algal blooms for decades, due to excess nutrient (primarily phosphorus) pollution. The constructed wetland is one of the District’s earliest restoration projects, designed to clear the lake’s water so that critical submerged aquatic vegetation has the light necessary to recover and flourish. To address a reduction in the MFW’s treatment efficiency because of years of continuous operation, we began a maintenance and improvement project in 2019 to re-level the wetland cells and reopen lateral ditches that promote sheetflow conditions in the MFW’s cells. The completed project restores the MFW to its originally constructed condition and reestablishes its ability to efficiently filter suspended sediments and nutrients from Lake Apopka.

Today this project is among a dozen at Lake Apopka to improve water quality. Since the late 1980s, the District’s work at Lake Apopka has resulted in a reduction in average lake phosphorus concentration of 64% while water clarity has increased by 55%. The recovery of clearer water and return of sunlight to the lake’s bottom has caused the regrowth of submerged aquatic vegetation, missing for 50 years, support planting of native aquatic vegetation, and improved critical largemouth bass habitat. As the lake’s habitat has recovered, so has the bass fishery, with a stocking boost by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. A successful fishing contest sponsored by the Friends of Lake Apopka this spring and visits from anglers participating in local bass tournaments are examples of the renewed possibilities due to the lake’s restoration.

Lake Apopka is just one of the noteworthy lakes in our District. Others include the many lakes found along the St. Johns River — Blue Cypress Lake at its headwaters and flowing though lakes Washington, Harney, Jesup, Monroe and George (Florida’s second largest) along its path to the ocean — and Newnans Lake, the headwaters of the Orange Creek Basin. District-led lake restoration projects include implementing innovative projects to improve Doctors Lake, Lake Minneola and Lake Jesup, and harvesting gizzard shad from lakes to reduce excess nutrients. Other work includes cost-share projects with local government partners that help reduce pollutants entering the lakes, setting minimum flows and levels to protect lakes from effects of water withdrawals, providing technical expertise to other entities involved in lake protection and coordinating with partners to plant native aquatic vegetation and manage invasive exotic species. Other projects have a primary focus on replenishing the Floridan aquifer, such as our Black Creek Water Resource Development Project, which will also benefit lake levels in lakes Brooklyn and Geneva.

To celebrate all our area’s lakes, we joined a social media event sponsored by the North American Lake Management Society (NALMS) to help raise awareness of the importance of lakes and the benefits they provide: valuable open spaces, recreation, aquifer recharge, and help reducing the force and impacts of flooding. You can join in the celebration by snapping a selfie, or photo of your pets and children when you visit one of our state’s beautiful lakes. Then post the photo to your social media account with the hashtag #LakesAppreciation and tag @NALMS1980 and @sjrwmd.

Thank you to our skilled staff of scientists, engineers, land managers and other District staff who study, restore and care for these lakes and their watersheds. I am proud of our staff’s dedication to the science of Florida’s lakes and look forward to continuing to share this good work with others who appreciate these timeless waterways as much as we do.

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