Our History 

How It Began

The West Orange Time's article's headline read "St. Johns River Water Management District signs Lake Apopka Death Warrant." Published in the May 16, 1991 edition, the article outlined the decision of the St. Johns Water Management District's governing board giving the Zellwood Muck Farms a permanent permit which would have allowed them to continue dumping polluted water into Lake Apopka.

The legislation was referred to as 40C-44FAC which stated that existing agricultural systems are "presumed to satisfy the conditions for issuance." An amendment to this ruling that would have required existing agricultural systems to get into compliance with the state's pollution standards before the issuance of a discharge permit failed. Another provision to limit the duration of the permit to five years also failed. The final paragraph of the article stated, "The local muck farmers are economically and politically powerful; and they appear to control state regulators. There does not seem to be anyone in government who is able to protect the lake."

James Hawley of Killarney was mentioned in the article. For years Jim had worked for the lake both in and out of court trying to force responsible agricultural practices. Jim and his wife live on the shores of Lake Apopka . He and a group of citizens sought restoration of the lake by forming "People for Lake Apopka Now!"

Members of the West Orange Chamber of Commerce distributed, at numerous chamber events, hundreds of reprints of the Times article along with a call for action. The Chamber board of directors established a Steering Committee to organize interested volunteers and prepare a course of action to press for an end to the pollution. This subcommittee operated under the sanction of the Chamber's Government Affairs Committee. Jim Hawley, Bill Breeze, Pat Smith, Andrew Bailey, Mike Malloy and Pat Arndt were among those early committee members.

It was after a number of meetings of this committee, that the need for expert assistance in the formation of an advocacy group was recognized and Jim Thomas, a environmental biologist and owner of BIOSPHERE in Winter Garden, was invited to attend committee meetings. Jim Thomas had served as president of the Friends of the Weikiva and was knowledgeable in restoration processes and in the organization of citizen advocacy groups. He agreed to serve as an advisor. After attending several committee meetings, Jim became a permanent member of the committee.

With Jim Thomas's guidance and dedication, The Steering Committee went on to draft a charter, spun off from the Chamber of Commerce, and formed what is now "Friends of Lake Apopka." Many of the original Steering Committee members became directors of the new group. An active relationship with the West Orange Chamber continues to this day. Without the initial support by their board and clerical support by staff, FOLA would not have achieved their goals. A special thanks will always go to the West Orange Chamber for this support.

Since then, FOLA has worked undauntingly to secure a solution for the lake restoration which finally, with the 1996 signing of the Lake Apopka Restoration Act, culminated the buyout of the muck farms and the beginning of the end of the phosphate loading.

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