Message from Dr. Ann Shortelle

Phosphorus free project is latest step in Lake Apopka’s recovery

January 31, 2020

Lake Apopka has seen significant improvement in water quality in recent years, and is poised to make even greater strides in the years to come.

On Jan. 24, the St. Johns River Water Management District hosted a visit to Lake Apopka previewing a project that will soon use innovative technology to remove phosphorus directly from the lake’s water. The process was successfully tested in 2017 at the District’s Lake Apopka North Shore. The promising test results convinced us to move ahead with this new method of improving water quality. This next stage is a pay-for-performance demonstration project that will help us continue our work on behalf of Lake Apopka while embracing our enthusiasm for innovative, collaborative ventures.

As a pay-for-performance project, the District will only pay for phosphorus removed, with a budget for the first year of $1.16 million (about $115 per pound of phosphorus removed). Construction is well underway, and the project will begin removing phosphorus this spring, benefiting Lake Apopka and downstream lakes, including lakes Beauclair and Dora.

The restoration at Lake Apopka continues to be a work in progress that features adaptive approaches, as well as new technologies to continue water quality improvements. The District’s purchase in the late 1990s, and restoration of the North Shore wetlands has dramatically reduced the amount of phosphorus entering the lake. In addition to the latest project, our portfolio of tools includes a sump dredging project (completed in October 2019) in which the sump captures sediments in the water before flowing downstream. With the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as funding partners, we completed a four-phase sediment vacuuming project in June 2019 with a total of 358 tons of sediments and 256 pounds of phosphorus removed.

At our Lake Apopka Marsh Flow-Way, phosphorus and sediments have been removed from the water since the flow-way began operation in 2003, removing more than 32 tons of phosphorus and nearly 60,000 tons of solids from the lake’s water. The District continues to harvest approximately a million pounds of rough fish from the lake annually via a public-private partnership that has cumulatively removed more than 113 tons of phosphorus. As phosphorus declines, so does algae, which clears the water enough to allow light to reach the lake’s bottom, stimulating the recolonization by submerged aquatic vegetation. Capitalizing on the improving water clarity, staff are engaged in multiple planting efforts in the lake, to further accelerate vegetation regrowth and creation of the critical habitat that historically supported a world-famous bass fishery.

We’re encouraged by the water quality and habitat improvements at Lake Apopka and look forward to added benefits with this latest venture and other technologies in the future. Thanks to all our partners in the lake’s recovery thus far and for your dedication to the work that lies ahead.

See our past stories