By Virgil Sweet, Director, Bring Back Our Florida Lakes
It was the summer of 2014 and the panoramic view of Western Lake Seminole from my second story condo was breathtaking. Fourteen boats were moored at their docks, waiting for their owners to take them out for a day of fun. Helen and I had experienced four years of living in this resort atmosphere and it seemed like paradise. The state of our lakes was a remarkable and beautiful sight.
The following summer, the lake was covered with pungent algae that made breathing difficult; then the boats began to disappear.
By early summer of 2016, all boats were gone except one which belonged to a part-time resident who didn’t arrive in time to remove his boat. It is still marooned at his dock three years later, tangled in a mass of weeds and mired in muck.
I decided to organize a volunteer group with others who had their beautiful environment ripped from their lives. We named our organization Bring Back Our Florida Lakes; our mission is to find out what caused this sudden change in our environment. With the creation of our website, bringbackourfloridalakes.com, we received messages from residents in Ft. Myers, Sebring, Gainesville and all points in between. It turns out, this is a statewide problem.
We found that the weeds that covered our lakes so suddenly were a result of unusually heavy rains, hot weather, and a plethora of animal waste, fertilizer and weed clippings rushing through the county storm sewer pipes into our lakes. The immediate treatment of our lakes was spraying chemicals, but as the weeds died and sank to the bottom, they decayed and turned to muck, which has accumulated and created a harmful
environment for marine life.
The depth of our lake was 6.5-feet deep in 2014. Today it is 24-inches deep and propellers of any motorboat will become embedded in the bottom.
We studied courthouse records where we found official documents that state the code allows sewage and solid waste to be discharged into our freshwater lakes. Pursuing that lead, we found that in 1972, the federal government permitted local governments to build
“watersheds,” a surface drainage system designed to carry all surface water into our freshwater lakes.
To protect our lakes, Congress also passed the Clean Water Act which required testing on a continuing basis. Local governments soon petitioned the federal government to exclude any lake that had good water quality. Most lakes qualified for the exclusion because the
watersheds had not had time to pollute the water. To this day, we believe that testing is performed on very few lakes as evident by the massive weed growth.
There is some good news on the waterfront. A new $70,000 harvesting machine skims the surface for weeds and algae and can pull underwater weeds out by the roots. It is readily available and economically feasible.
Spraying is a thing of the past. State government agrees and is now listing the harvesting machine as a means to remedy the problem. We encourage all concerned citizens to read more and sign the petition at: bringbackourfloridalakes.com. If the lakes in your community are suffocating from weeds, muck and pollution, please reach out to your local government officials and tell them a solution is now available.