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Lake Apopka Restoration

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Lake Apopka is a 31,000-acre lake located in Central Florida. It is one of the headwater regions of the Ocklawaha Chain of Lakes with the Palatlakaha basin being another contributing headwater region. Through the 1940's, Lake Apopka was the second largest Lake in Florida. It was a premier bass fishing lake and, in the days before major theme parks, was known as one of central Florida's major tourist attractions. Anglers came from all over the country to fish for trophy game fish. Twenty-one fish camps were located on the western shore of the Lake.

Accelerated expansion of the surrounding agricultural operations, beginning in the 1940's and 1950's caused prompt degradation of the lake. The loss of wetlands ringing the lake and the input of phosphorus-laden discharges from agriculture, citrus processing facilities and wastewater plants were the culprits. By the 1960's, the lake had become severely degraded that it was considered the most polluted large lake in Florida. Although the lake's degradation process was not gradual, it has extended over a period of 50 years. The nutrient-laden discharges created a chronic algae bloom that resulted in loss of the lake's recreational value and game-fish populations. Those who remember the Lake during the 1980's will recall its pea green color.

Since Lake Apopka is one of the headwater regions of the Ocklawaha Chain of Lakes, pollutant dispersal downstream has resulted in adverse water quality impacts to downstream lakes in the chain.

Legislation in 1985 and 1987 mandated that the St. Johns River Water Management District develop and implement plans to restore Lake Apopka to Class III water quality (making the lake suitable for recreational use). Planning, diagnostic and feasibility studies for Lake Apopka's restoration began under the 1985 Lake Apopka Restoration Act. The 1987 Surface Water Improvement and Management (SWIM) Act included the lake as a priority water body in need of restoration. The 1996 Lake Apopka Restoration Act included authorization for the District to set a criterion to be used in limiting phosphorus discharges to the lake and provided funding to initiate a mandated buyout of farms located on the north side of the lake.

Primary goals for restoration of the lake include reduction of the amount of phosphorus going into Lake Apopka and habitat restoration. Habitat restoration is to be accomplished through restoration of the lake's shoreline, increased fluctuation in lake levels, and restoration of the north shore farmlands to wetlands. A multi-faceted approach to phosphorus reduction has been developed, which includes farm buyout, creation of a marsh flow-way system, removal of gizzard shad from the lake, and development of a rule limiting the amount of phosphorus that can be discharged into Lake Apopka or its tributaries as a result of new development in the Lake Apopka hydrologic basin. The District is partnering with local, state and federal agencies to accomplish these mandates.

As a result of the Lake Apopka initiatives already put in place, the lake is showing signs of rebounding. Since 1995, a 30 percent decline in phosphorus in the lake has occurred, resulting in an increase in water clarity. Up until the drought conditions experienced in 2002, a number of native submerged plants around the lake were re-established. With the coming on-line of the first phase of the marsh flow-way in November 2003 and the planned restoration of acquired farmlands, even more dramatic improvements can be expected for Lake Apopka in the future.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2004-01-01

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