Many of Florida’s lakes have suffered from low water levels during the past decade, but none more than the Clermont Chain of Lakes in central Florida. In fact, while other nearby fisheries have had adequate water during years of more abundant rain, this 15-lakes system that includes Minneola, Minnehaha, Susan, and Crescent has continued to dry up.
“Clermont Bait & Tackle that was here for generations is gone now,” said Dave Burkhardt, who has lived on Lake Crescent for 25 years and is owner of Trik Fish/Triple Fish line company.
“Guides are gone and so are marinas and boat businesses. Hundreds of people who are paying taxes for waterfront property don’t have water anymore.
“And yet this is supposed to be a highly protected system.”
In fact, the Clermont Chain is but 41 of the state’s rivers, lakes, lake chains, and estuarine areas to be designed as Outstanding Florida Waters.
But it certainly didn’t look that way this past fall, with shrubs and trees growing beyond boathouses and weeds carpeting dried up canals. The chain was estimated to be 2 ½ to 3 ½ feet below regulatory water levels when the Lake County Water Authority (LCWA) decided to spend $150,000 on a study by AMEC, an engineering and project management company, to find out what is happening to the water.
Mike Perry, LCWA executive director, maintains that much of the problem stems from persistent drought for the chain and its headwaters, the Green Swamp, a massive wetlands system east that stretches across a half-million acres in southern Lake and northern Polk counties east of Tampa. “The lakes are really driven by rainfall,” he said.
But property owners believe that something else is going on. Some even suspect that water is being diverted to Tampa.
“Some people don’t have all the information and they are coming up with their own answers to the problem, with things like, ‘The system is flowing the wrong way, or somebody has done something in the system to make it drain from the Clermont Chain out to the Withlacoochee River,’” Perry added.
One resident who has studied the watershed extensively countered that members of LCWA board “don’t have a clue” what is happening to the water. But he’s not in the conspiracy camp either.
“They talk about the Green Swamp being the source, but the water runs mostly north and west,” said the man who asked to remain anonymous. "We get water from just one corner of the swamp.”
And flow from that source is impeded by a number of obstacles, he said, including blocked culverts and a road that diverts water to the Withlacoochee River. “They say that it’s got to rain when what’s really going on is that the water is running out to the ocean,” he said.
Will AMEC make a similar finding?
“Whatever conclusion AMEC reaches, the authority is under obligation to respond and to take this to the next level. The ball is rolling,” said the South Lake Press in an editorial.
(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)