Check here for communications from our Board and members, including meeting Agendas, Minutes, and memorandums to FOLA members and community leaders.
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Monthly Board Meeting
November 5, 2015
1. 5:30 P.M. Call to Order- Oakland Nature Preserve
2. Treasurer’s Report
3. Old Business:
4. New Business
As recorded by Secretary, Rachel Comstock.
To: FOLA Board & Advisory Group
From: Jim Thomas
I am sending these emails to a lot of people who have expressed interest in our projects on Lake Apopka. Our major project now is the Ecotourism Coalition and we will discuss our plans in our regular board meeting. Our next meeting is October 1, at 5:30 P.M. at ONP. Please attend if you can.
I’d like us to think about a restoration project that will interest the public and allow some opportunities to get public volunteers. I hope to get some restoration in fringe areas which introduce native plants that have habitat value which will attract bird species that are not aquatic or migratory species. We will discuss it on Thursday at the board meeting.
FOLA has been mentioned in several articles last week. In Joy Dickinson’s Sentinel column she mentioned FOLA as one of the groups that helped start the restoration.
Another article “Ill Farmworkers Push for Answers” described health problems believed to be caused by the toxic sprays applied to the farm fields. When FOLA began pushing for closing the farms, the Farmworkers Association berated us publicly for putting farmworkers out of jobs. Our response was that we were actually saving their lives. We were able to document many instances where the aerial sprays were applied while workers were in the fields!
The NURF system is operating again for the first time since April, 2012! The current operation is being monitored to make sure all equipment is operational. FOLA opposed the NURF project, not because of the process but because of the location. We felt it should have been a long way downstream and the project site was the only on in the entire north shore that could have been restored to a wet prairie system. Once we lost we stopped pushing but we are still concerned about the accumulation of flocculent materials on site.
Our bus tour of the north shore last week was very interesting and gave us a good look at sites for potential ecotourism projects. We will organize more tours to get more people out there.
The Harris Chain of Lakes Restoration Council will meet on Friday, October 2 at 9:00 AM in the Lake County Administration Building in Tavares (315 West Main Street, the round building). I probably will not be able to make it so I hope someone from our group will attend and take notes. FOLA continues to disagree with this group on flooding the north shore and several other issues.
The West Orange Airport Authority will meet today at 10:00 AM at Apopka City Hall. I was not able to attend. If anyone attended, please call me for an update. FOLA continues to disagree with any plan that puts flight patterns over the north shore.
The Birdapalooza planning committee will meet on September 30 at 8:30 AM at Magnolia Park. I can’t attend but we have some members who can update us. We need to make sure we really support this project!
Tonight, Wednesday September 23, Kevin Gidusko will give a presentation on The History of Lake Apopka at 7:00 PM at the Winter Garden History Center. Please try to attend—you will find it fascinating. Kevin has been a great supporter of ONP form the beginning.
On Wednesday, September 30 I will attend a luncheon where the Environmental Hero will be announced. If we win first place, ONP will receive $10,000. We will get $5,000 if we don’t get first place. Thank you to everyone that took the time to vote.
Thanks to all of you who continue to support our projects and goals to help ensure we do the best we can to restore the Apopka basin and create a great habitat!
As recorded by FOLA Secretary, Rachel Comstock
To: FOLA BOD and Advisors
Re: FOLA Business
Our next board meeting will be Thursday, July 2 at 5:30 P.M. in the ONP Museum. Please make every effort to be there- we have many decisions to make about what to do next. We have lost momentum on our eco-tourism coalition and need to do some planning.
We need to schedule a number of activities so let’s be thinking about how we do it:
· Schedule another meeting of the coalition and get back to ecotourism plans. Apopka has proceeded with great plans for the areas closest to them.
· Schedule the bus tours of the north shore for members of this coalition, to map areas where our proposed projects could be built.
· Try to schedule a meeting with Dr. Ann Shortelle, the new Executive Director of SJRWMD to update her on who we are and what we want to do.
· Schedule a public update meeting to get more people interested and involved. Combine this with a membership drive.
· Do a newsletter to update the community on our plans.
· Start a series of newspaper articles about our ideas and progress.
· Proceed with an application for Hull Island acquisition.
· Keep the community educated about what is happening with the Amendment 1 issue. (I sit on the Florida Wildlife Federation board of directors and we have filed a lawsuit against the legislature.)
· Continue to press for a convenient boat ramp on the west side of the lake.
· Continue to monitor action by the Harris Chain Advisory Council in their quest to take out the dikes and flood the north shore.
· Continue to collect, verify and put in order any of our past correspondence or studies to be archived for future reference. We are up to the 1980’s and it is very interesting. Once we have completed most of it we will provide links to FOLA, ONP and History Center websites.
· Provide any help we can to Jim Hawley as he puts together more information on Minimum Flows and Levels study, one of the most important studies as we continue to push for more research and restorations.
· Continue to review proposed research programs in Lake Apopka. While we are not regulators and we are not research scientists we are frequently asked to approve or promote the projects.
As you can see, we have a lot to do and my energy levels are beginning to wane so I need help. We will discuss all of this on Thursday at the board meeting. Hope to see you there!
Scott Laidlaw, SJRWMD
From: Jim Thomas, Friends of Lake Apopka
Re: Questions, Spring Flow
Mr. Laidlaw and Ms. Greenwood,
It is my understanding that the renewal for the CUP for the Niagara Bottled Water Company has been approved the renewal of the CUP for the Niagra Bottling Water Company which included an increase in the allocation from 0.484 mgd to 0.910 mgd.
As part of this renewal Niagara agreed to relocate withdrawals from the upper Floridian aquifer to the lower aquifer within 10 years. If they complete this shift to the lower aquifer the permit will expire in February, 2035 (20 years). The company must also perform an “aquifer test program” to prove the confinement between the upper and lower aquifers. By moving to the lower aquifer Niagara “mitigates impacts to the MFL lakes in Lake County”.
W have several questions about springs we hope you will be able to answer:
1. What do we know about the hydrology and interactions between upper and lower aquifer? If the lower is lowered, is it replaced from the upper?
2. What kinds of tests does Niagara have to perform to meet that part of the permit requirements?
3. Is there a major difference in water quality between upper and lower? What about salinity?
4. Do we know anything about distribution of the product by Niagara? Florida only, other areas, worldwide?
5. Does the product come from a single spring or multiple sources?
6. We have been disturbed by decreased flows in Gourd Neck Spring since it flows into Lake Apopka. Does any of Niagara’s product come from Gourd Neck?
7. What was the total cost of the permit renewal to Niagara?
(From the West Orange Times http://www.wotimes.com/2015/01/2015-forecast-lake-apopka/.)
For 24 years, the Friends of Lake Apopka have generated grassroots interest and dedication for the restoration, conservation, exploration and education of Orange County’s largest lake.
In its 25th year, this society of volunteers has resolved to focus on ecotourism as a means of expanding its reach.
“We have now reached a point where we feel there is no danger in pesticides here, and we now need to focus on ecotourism ideas to generate some funds,” said Jim Thomas, president of FOLA. “Our kickoff meeting was Dec. 30, and we’ve involved every town around here and the counties. We’re just going to put together a coalition to figure out what we can do to get people to use it.”
One of the primary draws FOLA has worked on is birdwatching, making use of the historic migratory bird flyway on the lake’s northern shore.
“Hundreds of thousands of birds come here every winter,” Thomas said. “They either stop over or stay here. Birdwatchers — a big part of ecotourism — they come here for that. That’s going to be a major thing, and we’ve already tried to make it more open for them to get in here.”
Even within birdwatching, there is an array of possibilities to explore.
“We’ve designed a drive-through trail, with all of the different cells that have different birds doing different things,” Thomas said. “When you think about 20,000 acres, that’s a lot of land, and so we’ve designed a trail that people can drive and stop at the different pods. That will open in January or February. It’s going to give us an access, and the trail has been good. We have a festival every year in Magnolia Park to raise interest, called the Birdapalooza, on Feb. 7. We get a lot of people for that festival. We do guided tours to watch birds and that sort of thing.”
COMING ATTRACTIONSIn addition to expanded birdwatching, FOLA is working with local governments and environmental groups to build on established and former attractions around the lake, as well as propose new elements, such as a plethora of tours, classes for all ages, an acquisition of Hull Island and Crown Point and a rehab center for native species.
“Friends of Lake Apopka has promoted some things over the years,” Thomas said. “One of the things we’ve gotten at Magnolia Park is a hiking trail that goes all the way around the lake, and it comes to this side, and we have a trailhead now on the other side. You can hike or bike 18 miles. The trailhead was just opened, and it’s beautiful. Our goal is now to connect it with Ferndale Preserve (in Clermont), and then eventually come around and connect to the West Orange Trail.”
Orange County agreed to connect the West Orange Trail to Magnolia Park, as well, covering about three miles of gap, which could introduce more trail-goers to trails around Lake Apopka, Thomas said.
Thomas’s biggest personal goal is to get a deepwater boat ramp in Oakland, so that West Orange residents have an easier access point for fishing.
“One of the problems we have with fishing is that this (east) side of the lake is very shallow compared to the other side, and some boats can’t get out there,” Thomas said. “And the only public boats are at Magnolia Park and the city of Winter Garden. A boat of any size you can’t get out. It’s a real problem now — people like to fish, and we’re always getting a lot of people saying nobody’s using the lake. Well, nobody’s using the lake because they can’t get there on the available boat ramps.”
Thanks to Gourd Neck Springs in the southwest part of the lake, just northwest of Oakland, a flow to the lake provides a depth of 18 feet, a prime location for such a ramp.
“So we get the trails hooked up and a usable boat ramp here and the north shore, but we would like to see other things,” Thomas said. “We would like to see another nature center. We’d like to see even a bird-oriented hotel or something, and just all kinds of ideas that we want to promote and get everything going that we possibly can to bring back the economy of this area.”
That includes bringing back fishing, for which the lake was once famous.
“It’s going to be important to get the fishery back — that was the original fame of Apopka,” Thomas said. “I used to come here when I was 10 years old to fish in Lake Apopka. It’s been pretty amazing to remember how great it was and then see how terrible it was, but the whole lake is 31,000 acres. That’s a huge lake.”
Other attractions center on the Oakland Nature Preserve, which is used a lot for children’s programs in particular, such as environmental education and summer camps, Thomas said.
“The preserve was finally able to hire a part-time staff, and we’ve scheduled a lot of events and things like a partnership with the charter schools so all the charter school students come here to study science,” he said. “It’s built the reputation.
PRESERVATION FOUNDATIONFOLA established the Oakland Nature Preserve in 1999 with a primary purchase of 95 acres.
“After we saw the lake was going to be restored, Friends of Lake Apopka needed a place to keep the public involved, because in advocacy you’ve got to have public access and public support,” Thomas said. “We said, ‘Let’s just build a small nature center somewhere and use it to promote the lake restoration and keep people updated.’”
Much of the land purchased for the nature preserve was frozen orange groves with nothing native, so volunteers started taking out orange trees and planting native trees, with restoration of land near the lake becoming as important as lake restoration, Thomas said.
“The Oakland Nature Preserve is an important part of the history of Lake Apopka,” he said. “It’s extremely unusual in that all of it was done by volunteers, with no government subsidy. We just had really good support from the community and volunteers. We wanted this thing and got it.”
The preserve has helped FOLA’s mission of keeping people in touch with Lake Apopka, with all of its programs focused on that or natural history of the area. Grants have helped, too, although local governments have not formally contributed money in such a way until last year, Thomas said.
“We just got our first grant from a local government: We got $15,000 a year from Orange County for the time being,” he said. “Everything else has been fundraising — that’s it. We did everything from bake sales to begging and whatever it takes, but we’ve gotten what we wanted.”
POLLUTION PROGRESSIONThe combination of voluntary and financial support has had a measured effect on the pollution that made Lake Apopka nationally infamous as the most polluted body of water in Florida, however gradual or tough to notice.
“It wasn’t long until the thing was so green that the light couldn’t penetrate it to get to the bottom plants, so they died, and then the fish died,” Thomas said. “The one thing we have to keep making clear to people is that the magnitude of this pollution is greater than anybody’s ever tackled, trying to restore the whole thing. You just can’t expect fast action.”
Even so, the level of phosphorus in the lake has steadily diminished since FOLA formed in 1991.
“The real goal began with getting phosphorus out of the lake,” he said. “That’s what’s making it green. That’s come a long way. It’s still green, but it’s not as green as it once was, when we started. The chemistry graph shows the phosphorus steadily dropping. We’re getting there. It’s just hard for people to see, and that’s why we need publicity on it: People are still upset, because it still looks green.”
The phosphorus issue began in 1941, when 21,000 acres of marsh became vegetable muck farms.
“They built a dike and sealed it off from the lake and farmed it,” Thomas said. “One of the problems they had when they started farming was it’s all organic soil. In the summer, it would oxidize because of the heat. So they developed a process of flooding the marsh through the summer and then pumping it back in the lake with hundreds of thousands of pounds of phosphorus.”
This pollution worsened for 50 years, until FOLA began its mission 24 years ago.
“At that time, the lake was very polluted,” he said. “All the farms on the north shore were in function, and nothing was being done. They had passed some rules about funding some restoration, but there were no plans ever given, and so nothing ever happened. That’s when we just got really angry, and the thing that finally triggered us off was when we had chemical data published by the Legislature about what was happening there and had to be changed. We got a lot of people together in West Orange County, and we started Friends of Lake Apopka, with the whole purpose of getting that lake restored somehow.”
The timing of FOLA’s formation fortunately coincided with a set of new, young legislators who supported the group’s mission.
“We got funds for buying out all of the farms,” Thomas said. “We tried a number of things to save the farms and work with them. They just would have no part of it. So we bought them — $100 million — and started the whole process. There was a lot of bloodshed, but it came across. We’re still dealing with a huge piece of land. Our goal is to get eelgrass on the bottom of the lake, which provides a lot oxygen and supports fish.”
Although farmers’ phosphorus is a diminishing problem, a new challenge faces Lake Apopka.
“One of the biggest problems we have here is a lack of water … because the drainage basin that drains into the lake when it rains is so tiny,” Thomas said. “The lake is so big, and the evaporation rate in the summer is so fast, that it takes a long time. After all of the rain we’ve had, we’re a foot below the minimum height. We used to have lots of hurricanes in this area, and those are the only times we got it filled up. We can’t pump it from anywhere. We have to depend entirely on rainfall, so that slows down the restoration a great deal.”
LAKE APOPKA TIMELINEFor years, Thomas has been updating FOLA’s Lake Apopka timeline.
“It starts with the early history, and we have done a lot of study on the archeological,” Thomas said. “When we bought this place, one of the things we didn’t realize was it’s a very significant archeological site. So we’ve done a lot of research in archeology to show what went on before we got here. We had the Timucuan Indians since 10,000 B.C., and then in the 1500s they died out, probably because of diseases coming from the Spanish, and then the Seminoles took over.”
The first settlers of the lake arrived around the 1840s, settling Oakland around 1840, before Winter Garden or Orlando, Thomas said.
“There were six tribes of Seminoles around the lake,” he said. “We have tons of archeological finds. We started out with a mission to help understand the restoration of Lake Apopka, but then we had to add in there to study and teach cultural history, as well as natural history.”
10,000 B.C. to A.D. 1500s: Native tribes thrive around Lake Apopka.
1880: Construction begins on the Apopka-Beauclair Canal by Apopka Canal Co., creating a waterway for navigation and agriculture.
1883: Levels drop 3 feet and expose sediment surfaces of marshes. Small farms spring up around the lake.
1893: Delta Canal Company completes 12 miles of canal, connecting Lake Apopka to lakes Beauclair, Dora, Eustis and Griffin, as well as the Ocklawaha River. This lowered Lake Apopka’s surface by a meter, exposing most sawgrass marsh on the north shore.
1942: Farms begin discharging into the lake.
1948: A hyacinth eradication program using chemicals begins. Winter Garden Citrus Products produces citrus concentrate, with effluent discharged into the lake. Enormous game fish population increases are documented through 1955.
1950: Winter Garden’s sewage treatment plant grows, discharging 1 million gallons of effluent into Lake Apopka each day. Game fish comprise 60% of the fish population.
1952: A lake stabilization program begins, including regulating lake levels. Trash fish are poisoned; 30 million pounds die in the lake. The game fish begin to deteriorate.
1962: Fish kills become widespread.
1963: Farmers spend more than $1 million on pesticide programs.
1964: Winter Garden’s sewage treatment plant serves 5,000. Effluent enters a mile-long ditch, channelized Lulu Creek, which serves the Winter Garden Citrus Products plant.
1967: The Lake Apopka Technical Committee is established to study and coordinate restoration plans. A governor’s aide says the lake is restorable within four years.
1969: Winter Garden Citrus Products adds a treatment process, reducing strength of effluent discharged to Lake Apopka.
1972: An outbreak of bacterial disease kills thousands of fish and many birds, alligators, snakes and turtles, garnering national attention. The state reveals a $2.3 million restoration plan, including a 50% drawdown, not funded.
1977: Peat mining begins on the southwestern shore, with effluent and stormwater collected in a man-made lake connected to Lake Apopka. University of Florida researchers say the lake is “not getting any dirtier” after deteriorating a half-century.
1978: A $14 million restoration plan is proposed, including drawdown. A public hearing of 100 begins the Environmental Impact Statement process.
1979: Restoration plans rise to $20 million. Citrus growers object from possible freeze damage. Another restoration plan, worth $2 million, proposes dredging the lake to make an island and north-south causeway across the lake, with an airport on the island. The final Environmental Impact Statement is complete.
1980: Winter Garden finishes its percolation/evaporation system for sewage, removing most effluent from the lake.
1981: Massive fish kills occur. A revised restoration plan includes a $3 million partial drawdown.
1985: Passage of the Lake Apopka Restoration Act of 1985 establishes a council and advisory committee with a $2.265 million budget. To stop farm discharges, St. Johns River Water Management District issues Intent to Deny and requests cease and desist orders and criminal charges.
1987: Surface Water Improvement and Management Act passes the Florida Legislature, naming Lake Apopka among seven restoration priorities.
1991: FOLA organizes.
1996: The Lake Apopka Restoration Act of 1996 sets phosphorus criteria for the lake, allowing SJRWMD to set phosphorus limits and receive $20 million to buy north-shore farms.
1997: A full-scale marsh flow-way is approved and initiated with $35 million. The Legislature approves $45 million to buy muck farms.
1998: Almost 15,000 acres of muck farms are bought for $100 million, via funds from Florida and 25% from the U.S. Federal Wetlands Reserve Program. Farming and pesticides end in June.
1999: More than 175 bird species migrate to the area, many suddenly dying. Accumulation of pesticide is suspected. Restoration is delayed for scientific investigations. Oakland Nature Preserve is established with an initial purchase of 95 acres.
2008: Wetland restoration occurs by flooding 1,200 acres of former ZDWCD farms.
2009: The marsh flow-way removes 62 million pounds of suspended solids and 37,300 pounds of phosphorus from November 2003 to December 2009.
2010: Lake phosphorus concentrations average 76 parts per billion, near the target of 55.
2011: The north shore hosts 346 bird species, more than anywhere in Florida. Magnolia Park has an August trailhead ribbon-cutting for 18 miles of North Shore Restoration Area activity, once restoration finishes.
The St. Johns River Water Management District is seeking public input as part of its work to develop minimum flows and levels (MFLs) for the Upper Ocklawaha River Basin (UORB) - including lakes Apopka, Beauclair, Dora, Eustis, Harris, Griffin, and Yale, in Lake, Marion and Orange counties.
For more information or questions, and a link to an online survey, please contact Sonny Hall at email@example.com or (386) 329-4368.
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