Mapping the Road to Watershed Restoration

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Image of Tens of thousands of acres of wetlands were drained around lakes during large-scale muck farming in the 1940s and 1950s. The rich farmlands created by wetland drainage were actually lower than adjacent water bodies and periodically required pumping water from the farmlands to adjacent water bodies. Unfortunately, the effluent carried excess nutrients from fertilizers, sediments, and pesticides and contributed to the decline in water quality. Pictured here is the Lake Apopka-Beauclair Canal where phosphorous-laden water flows north from Lake Apopka through the Lower Oklawaha River watershed. Efforts are underway to build the world's largest alum injection ponds to remove phosphorous from the water leaving Lake Apopka.
Tens of thousands of acres of wetlands were drained around lakes during large-scale muck farming in the 1940s and 1950s. The rich farmlands created by wetland drainage were actually lower than adjacent water bodies and periodically required pumping water from the farmlands to adjacent water bodies. Unfortunately, the effluent carried excess nutrients from fertilizers, sediments, and pesticides and contributed to the decline in water quality. Pictured here is the Lake Apopka-Beauclair Canal where phosphorous-laden water flows north from Lake Apopka through the Lower Oklawaha River watershed. Efforts are underway to build the world's largest alum injection ponds to remove phosphorous from the water leaving Lake Apopka. Lake County Water Authority

Video Transcript

Florida DEP is coordinating a massive, statewide watershed restoration effort, which focuses on reducing pollutants in Florida's rivers, lakes and streams. State, local governments, utilities and citizens work together to reach targeted pollution reduction goals. In the Ocklawaha River watershed, goals are already being met.

Elaine Rennick, Lake County Commissioner: The whole backyard used to be St. Augustine, right up to the pier here, one solid mass of green.

Narrator: The once-tame carpet of green lawn leading from Elaine Rennick's Clermont home to the shore of Lake Minihaha now is a lush and thick mix of Florida native wetland plants.

Elaine Rennick: One of the things you'll notice is that we have no beach.

Narrator: By keeping her shoreline natural, Rennick is doing is her part as a homeowner and a Lake County Commissioner to protect a lake, to restore a watershed. Lake Minihaha, located about 25 miles west of Orlando, is part of a chain of lakes whose waters flow north to form the Ocklawaha River.

Elaine Rennick:
If I'm going to talk the talk, I better walk the walk. I know a lot of neighbors thought it was crazy. We had a beautiful St. Augustine backyard, this solid green. In fact, the person who used to come and fertilize it, was working in the neighborhood when he saw it being torn out. He came over and was like, "I tried so hard to make that beautiful. What are you doing?"

Narrator: What Rennick is doing reaches far beyond her back yard. She is involved in a large-scale watershed restoration effort to improve water quality throughout the entire Upper Ocklawaha River basin, an area of central Florida including more than 70,000 acres of lakes and rivers.

Vivian Garfein, who is leading the effort in Central Florida for the Department of Environmental Protection is glad that Rennick is so passionate about water protection.

Vivian Garfein, Florida Department of Environmental Protection: People like Elaine Rennick have been at the table from the beginning. And with more and more people like that becoming involved showing others, showing neighbors how they can take care of their... If everybody takes care of their little piece of this earth like Elaine and Paul do, then all those pieces start to fit together.

Narrator: The strategies for cleaning up the Ocklawaha River watershed involve a collaborative effort between DEP, water managers, county and local governments and other stakeholders...people like biologist John Benton of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

John Benton, Florid Fish and Wildlife Commission: Cheree is going to push us off. We're going to our first sample site to see what we can find.

Narrator: Today, Benton and biologist Cheree Steward are surveying the game fish in Lake Beauclair which has some of the worst water quality in the Upper Ocklawaha Basin. The pollutant in Lake Beauclair is phosphorous, which flows in water from Lake Apopka. High phosphorus levels feed algae, turning the water pea green.

John Benton: What we're about to start on is our electro-fishing sample. We're working at about 600 volts and 10 amps of current, which is pretty stout.

Narrator: Benton's fish sampling is just one of thousands of research and monitoring projects in Florida aimed at improving water quality. Science is the foundation upon which DEP's watershed restoration plans are built. More data has been collected on Florida's waters than any other state in the U.S. DEP is required by Federal and State laws to monitor water quality in order to determine which water bodies are impaired and establish targets for pollution reduction. Once those targets are established, the Action Plan for restoration is developed together with the local community.

John Benton: We're going to crank up the generator here, and do a five-minute sample.

Narrator: An electric current supplied by probes hanging in the water draws fish toward the boat. When they get close, they are shocked and go limp. Steward arms herself with a net, ready to scoop up the temporarily stunned fish.

Narrator: Benton steers the boat into a thin fringe of tall grass at the edge of the lake, and Steward snags a variety of species and deposits them in a holding tank. After 5 minutes, all the shocking and dipping is over; now, they count and weigh the fish they've collected. This first fish is a large mouth bass, a primary sport fish. And it is 435 mm. That's 17-inches worth of good news. However, most of Benton's samples today indicate the lake's ill health. Exotic species like tilapia outnumber the native bass that once lured fishing tourneys here and helped to power the local economy.

John Benton: If the lake got better, we would expect to see more sport fish instead of the tilapia, and maybe a larger variety, larger sizes on the sport fish. It certainly indicates this lake is damaged, but the pieces are there to repair. We're not missing sport fish species all together. That would be really bad -- If we didn't find any bass or brim species at all.

Narrator: Sport fish need habitat - submerged eelgrass, in this case. Eel grass needs sunlight to grow; sunlight can't penetrate pea-soup. Restoring Lake Beauclair means addressing water clarity.

John Benton: The problem in this lake is the habitat only extends out from shore 20 or 30 yards. You don't have a quarter mile out into the lake of nursery area, so you're limited to a very small percentage of the lake as a whole for your nursery area and that limits how many sport fish species the lake is capable of producing.

Narrator: Lake Beauclair is one of ten water bodies in the Upper Ocklawaha River Basin that don't meet state water quality standards. Here, high levels of phosphorus have caused an imbalance in the native plant and fish communities.

A few miles away, the Lake County Water Authority says that the authority and the St. Johns River Water Management District are taking a big step to remove phosphorous from the water flowing from Lake Apopka. It includes the creation of giant ponds where water from the canal will be diverted and treated with aluminum sulfate, commonly referred to as "alum". The alum, which is also used in public drinking water supplies, will bind with phosphorous and other solids in the water causing them to settle to the bottom of the ponds where they can be removed.

Lance Lumbard, Lake County Water Authority: The Apopka-Beauclair canal is really the greatest source of nutrient pollution for the entire Ocklawaha. We can get about 67 percent at minimum reduction in total phosphorous coming down the Apopka-Beauclair canal.

Narrator: That amounts to more than five tons of phosphorus per year. When completed, the Apopka-Beauclair Nutrient Reduction Facility will be the largest alum stormwater treatment facility in the world.

Lance Lumbard: The net effect is that we start to see increasing water clarity downstream. That's the big driver for the project.

Narrator: Because of large projects like this one and backyard efforts of people like Elaine Rennick, pollution reduction targets are already being achieved in the Ocklawaha watershed. DEP's Vivian Garfein says that watershed restoration statewide is a monumental undertaking that requires everyone's support.

Vivian Garfein: It's hard in some ways to comprehend what a big program this is. But, it is huge. It has people at all levels throughout the department and throughout the state and throughout state government and local government involved in a way they've never been involved before. Because everybody now understands and recognizes that we have to work towards this program and these reductions in order to preserve the quality of our water bodies in the state of Florida.

Related Links

Ocklawaha River Watershed Overview

Basin Management Action Plans

Ocklawaha Watershed Assessment & Status Reports

Ocklawaha Watershed TMDL