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Current Concerns

  FOLA has just received this draft copy of the Harris Chain Council’s Goals and Objectives framework, to be discussed at an upcoming TAG meeting.
 Following this, please see a draft copy of FOLA's responses.

Clearer water translates into better aquatic habitat, fisheries, and public-use and economic opportunities for the Harris Chain of Lakes
An overarching (action) goal for the Harris Chain of Lakes

Objective 1 – Control nutrient and sediment inputs

a. Continued long-term support for the Lake County Water Authority (LCWA) Nutrient Removal Facility (NuRF) for treating non-flood discharges from Lake Apopka to the lakes downstream.
b. Minimize direct releases from Harris Bayou into Lake Griffin with the construction of by-pass infrastructure.
c. Continued long-term support for agricultural, urban, and other categories of structural and non-structural best management practices (BMPs) as part of the total maximum daily load (TMDL) program, which the key implementation strategy under the Upper Ocklawaha Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP).

Objective 2 – Continue to improve aquatic habitat and water quality

a. Directly connect marshlands within the North Shore Restoration Area (NSRA) to Lake Apopka in those areas where the St. Johns Water Management District is not subject to land/water use restrictions as part of the agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
b. Support a pilot program to allow hydrilla to grow naturally in selected areas of Lake Apopka in an attempt to stabilize lake bottom sediments, improve water clarity, and provide important fisheries habitat. Hydrilla would be controlled to prevent encroachment into areas of the lake with public access and navigation opportunities, private docks, and habitat supporting the crappie fishery.

Objective 3 – Capitalize on habitat and water-quality improvements

a. Gain the support of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) for designating the Harris Chain of Lakes as Trophy Bass Resource by implementing a catch-and-release only regulation for largemouth bass of 16 inches or greater in length.
b. Improve public access to Lake Apopka, particularly in the deeper sections of the lake along the western shore.


The following comments are submitted by FOLA in response to the draft goals and objective framework of the HCLRL in notifying the SJRWMD of their agenda for an upcoming TAG meeting.
Objective 1 - Control nutrient and sediment inputs

FOLA recognizes the value of alum treatment for nutrient removal if done properly.  FOLA objected to the NURF project because of its location (the only portion of the Apopka restoration that had never been tilled, allowing for restoration to a wet prairie habitat) and because it would have been more effective downstream.  FOLA also warned of the fact that low water levels in the lake would inhibit the operation of the system that was very expensive to construct and operate.
Objective 2 - Continue to improve aquatic habitat and water quality.

(a)  FOLA objects to any proposal to directly connect the marshlands on the north shore to the lake.  Soil oxidation occurred while the soil was dried for years and would make the area that was marshland become more lake bottom if flooded.  With our goal for restoration centered on the lake for fishing operations and the marsh for bird habitat, we feel restoration of surrounding upland habitat, marshland and lake bottom will provide a variety of habitats that will better support ecotourism.

(b)  FOLA continues to object to any proposal that allows establishment of hydrilla in any portion of the lake.  It does not take a scientist to know that once this very aggressive plant gets established in a shallow high nutrient body of water it will be difficult if not impossible to eradicate or control.  This issue has been evaluated many times and this conclusion has been agreed upon by many scientists (See Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Position Paper 04/27/2011, Section I.)
Objective 3 - Capitalize on habitat and water quality improvements

(a)  FOLA agrees with the goals to promote an active fishery in the lake but there are other ecotourism values that are equally valuable.
(b)  FOLA has continued to promote a new boat ramp in the deeper part of the lake, in Oakland.  FOLA has found an ideal site with a willing landowner and has completed a preliminary engineering plan with cost estimates.
Citizen advocacy and advisory groups can be very beneficial to local projects and problems but can also be responsible for slowing or eliminating beneficial proposals and for wasting time and money as competition for resources builds.  A Restoration Council should be concerned with the whole ecosystem and should base all decisions on the best science available.  Lake Apopka is an important part of the Harris Chain ecosystem, in fact, the headwaters.  Until this lake is restored it will be difficult to see major changes downstream.
Instead of fostering constant competition, for water, weed control and other restoration necessities, we should be working on constant cooperation to see that the needs of the whole system are met.

Jim Thomas
Friends of Lake Apopka


The Friends of Lake Apopka incorporated in 1991 and has been a strong advocacy group for the restoration of Lake Apopka since that time. The group formed after years of seeing a green lake and no fishermen and the final trigger that spurred them into action was a decision to allow the farms on the north shore ten more years of farming and a legislative bill to fund dumping of concrete rubble around the shoreline of the lake.

The call to organize got a good response and the group was instrumental in getting legislative attention which eventually resulted in a buyout of the farms (and the concrete bill got squashed in committee before it even got to the floor)! Since that time the group has been proactive in reviewing proposals for the massive restoration project and overcoming opposition that would hinder plans. Support for the group has been phenomenal!

One of the reasons for success of the group was the decision at the very beginning that any action would be based on the science of the problem or proposal. This decision separated the group from those who were more interested in protesting or following unsubstantiated proposals and plans. Letters and responses to elected officials were based on facts.

As the restoration proceeds, FOLA has followed the data as closely as possible and tries to keep the public informed. Public meetings were either aimed at updating progress (or in some cases, opposing proposals, such as fighting the hydrilla proposal). A spin-off project, the Oakland Nature Preserve, was planned to keep the public involved and to provide environmental education programs for students as well as interested adults.

Now we have a problem. More than ever, we are seeing issues being resolved more by poilitics than by science . This brings about the need for many advocates who are willing to learn about the details of a proposal and then to respond to the elected officials responsible for plans and funding. If a politician gets a few letters or phone calls he may or may not pay attention. If he gets 200 well informed responses he will be more likely to respond positively!

This is a call for help! Anyone interested in joining FOLA, getting emails and newsletters or serving on the Board of Directors please respond to our website address The individual dues for this organization is only $10.00/year—the organization needs advocates more than money! The next meeting is Thursday, November 7 at 5:30 P.M. at the Oakland Nature Preserve and the public is invited to attend. A current update will be presented. The next year in the restoration process is critical to this wonderful lake!


October 2013
This document is an attempt to summarize where the programs stands as of July 2013, and to introduce new ideas and concepts currently being discussed. While the summaries are over-simplified, they help interested citizens understand what a massive project has been undertaken. Many ideas and efforts proposed over the years but not implemented are not included in this report.
Read Summary Oct 2013...

Update on Niagara Bottling permit application

October 10, 2013 from SJRWMD Water News
 St. Johns River Water Management District staff on Oct. 10, 2013, sent a Request for Additional Information (RAI) to Niagara Bottling regarding its consumptive use permit (CUP) application to renew and modify its permit. The applicant is seeking an increase in its average daily withdrawal from 484,000 to 910,000 gallons of water per day.
After reviewing the application, District staff determined that additional technical information is needed regarding the application.
The applicant has until Feb. 7, 2014, to respond to the RAI or to request an extension to the response time frame.
When the application is considered complete, District staff will determine if the requested allocation of water meets District permitting criteria.
Additional information about the permit application is available on the District's Niagara Bottling CUP application page.

Niagara requests renewal and modification of its water use permit

Niagara Bottling in Lake County has applied to the St. Johns River Water Management District to renew and modify its consumptive use permit (CUP) allocation. Niagara is currently permitted to withdraw up to 484,000 gallons per day (gpd) from the upper Floridian aquifer, and that permit expires in December 2013. More...

FOLA Archive Now Online

July 30, 2012 
FOLA is proud to present the online FOLA Archive of historical documents that have been saved over the years regarding the decline and restoration of Lake Apopka. This work in progress of scanning to text and PDF files, creating and uploading to a searchable online database and storing the original material in indexed binders is being made possible by interns and volunteers from the following organizations:

Central Florida Anthropological Society (
Florida Public Archaeology Network, East Central Region (
Valencia College (,
Oakland Nature Preserve (

Terry Hooker and Kevin Gidusko conceived the layout and began the scanning procedure, preparing the PDF files and saving the original documents in indexed binders with plastic sheet protectors. Aaron Gidusko created the online database and initiated the upload procedure. Jamie-Michelle Whalen, Toni Edwards and Julia Best continued working on the project, scanning documents and preparing the PDF files and binders.

We are especially grateful to the Oakland Nature preserve for the use of a corner in their museum room for our files and computer system and for including our finished binders in their museum library for researchers to use, and to Kevin Gidusko for his continued interest and leadership.

See FOLA Archive in History

Friends of Lake Apopka Position Paper April 2012 - Introduction

Lake Apopka drainage basinIn an on-going effort to support the restoration of Lake Apopka, the Friends of Lake Apopka (FOLA) have found it necessary to provide continual evaluation of the process as well as any threats to the project. Our original vision of the restoration was to get back to the original condition as much as possible, providing an ecosystem-based, science-supported process that restored the shallow north shore marshes (NSRA) back to a valuable system, the lake back to a productive fishery and surrounding wetlands and uplands to provide diverse habitats.

The restoration project is working. Anyone who disputes this probably does not consider the complexity and scale of this massive project or are unwilling to consider the data. Phosphorous levels continue to drop, water quality has increased considerably, mercury levels are lower than many clear lakes and we are now seeing recruitment of large beds of eelgrass. Fishing has also improved with some fairly large bass being taken.

One of the major problems we now face stems from competition for restoration goals by various groups. Fisheries management would have the north shore marshes flooded to provide deeper water for fish habitat and a bid to allow more proliferation of hydrilla in part of the lake. A recent plan to allow water levels to remain high during the winter was reversed when SJRWMD allowed the dam to be opened to increase water levels in Lake Griffin, which caused drying of some eelgrass around the perimeter of Lake Apopka. A recent proposal to allow development of a large sewage sludge compost facility on adjacent farm lands was narrowly defeated. The most serious threat now being promoted is the development of an airport that will service small jets. This could compromise the entire restoration project on the Lake Apopka basin, which has already cost over $150 million to date. Details and the FOLA positions on these issues are included in the attached Position Paper-2012.

Current trends that allow politics to trump science are particularly alarming. Interested citizens who understand these issues are urged to get involved. Support the Friends of Lake Apopka and keep up with the details on our website ( Visit the Oakland Nature Preserve to get more details on the restoration process and on the history of Lake Apopka. Our best defense for continued success is to have numbers of people who are informed and willing to enter the fight.

Jim Thomas
(407) 656-8277

FOLA Petition Against Airport Land Swap

Go on record in opposition to any proposed land swap that would accommodate a proposed airport expansion adjacent to the North Shore Restoration Area into a jetport. Taxpayers have already invested more than $150 million in this restoration process and allowing an airport expansion will compromise this project. Print this Petition, get some signatures and mail it to FOLA at PO Box 770355,  Winter Garden FL 34777-0355.

Friends of Lake Apopka Position Paper April 2012

FOLA continues to express strong opposition to any proposal that would develop an airport that allows any size jet planes to operate. This opposition is based on the following factors which are detailed in the enclosed attachments: 15-Orlando Sentinel

A. The initial goals of the expensive and difficult restoration plans for Lake Apopka were based on an ecosystem–based, scientific plan that would restore the north shore marshes, the water column and littoral areas of the lake and adjacent uplands and forested wetlands. These goals and procedures would be compromised by any development of an airport that allows jet flights.
( See Orlando Sentinel editorial "Give Apopka restoration priority over new airport" )

B. The FAA approval could include requirements to suppress wildlife in an area up to 10,000 feet from the runways. This would affect most of the north shore marshes. ( See aerial view on Attachment 1-Area map ).

C. Any decrease in the on-going restoration projects would, in effect, negate the advances made after expenditures of over $150 million of taxpayer funds. The decision to undertake this project was a difficult one, not only because of the cost but also for the loss of a viable farming industry and many jobs in the area. To see this long-term and successful restoration halted for the benefit of a few corporate jet owners is beyond comprehension of those who understand the value of this restoration.

D. The close proximity of the huge flocks of migratory birds which inhabit marshes and the lake every year will always present a danger to small jets. Summaries of these problems are outlined in Attachments 2-Birdstrikes, 3-Birdstrikes, 4-Birdstrikes.

E. FOLA objects to any proposed land swap with the West Orange Airport Authority (WOAA) that would involve any loss of uplands from the restoration area. Since the goals of the restoration process were formed on an ecosystem-based plan, the restoration of adjacent uplands will greatly increase the habitat value of the NSRA. FOLA also opposes any recommendations that SJRWMD should assist in the costs to appraise lands for this requested land swap.

F. WOAA continues to make detailed plans for the airport without having a valid feasibility study approved. A review of the area seems to indicate little or no need for this project. The nearest facility, the Leesburg International Airport, is only 11.8 miles away, and that airport is currently operating considerably below capacity. Other small airports without jet facilities are also experiencing low capacity because of the cost of fuel. Why would we compromise a major expensive restoration project if there is no need? A study in 2006 concluded “the need for additional aviation facilities could be met by expanding Orlando Executive Airport”. ( Attachment 5-Editorial )

G. Long range plans for the restored lake and marsh include a number of ecotourism projects, including a drive-through birding and wildlife trail as well as hiking and biking trails. Estimates based on comparison with similar facilities such as Merritt Island Birding Trail and the St. Marks National Park indicate potential income of $20-$30 million per year with the creation of at least 400 jobs. Orange County has completed a trail-head connection to a section of new trail to be opened soon along the shoreline of the lake. The proposed trail will eventually be 18 miles long and funding is in place for a western trailhead funded by Lake County and Green Mountain Scenic Byway. Adjacent areas such as Winter Garden and Apopka will benefit from these ecotourism dollars. ( Attachments 6-Economics, 7-Survey )

H. No details of costs to build and update this airport have been presented. Earlier estimates of costs, which included the following, were presented: FAA will fund up to 95% of total costs. (Representatives of FAA and FDOT refuted this statement pointing out that FAA and FDOT would not fund more than 20%-30% and that typically local governments usually end up paying for 80% or more).

I. Many misleading claims have been used to promote the airport:
“The proposed airport is adjacent to a Sun Rail route.” (No Sun Rail project has been proposed).
“Orange County staff has stated this is a perfect spot for an airport.” (Unable to verify.)
“The airport location was moved to the current site at the direction of Mayor Teresa Jacobs.” (Unable to verify.)
“The four cities around the lake will benefit financially from the airport.” (All are opposing the project.)
“The proposed airport site has functioned as an airport for 50 years, proving the site is safe near the marsh.” (The site serviced only small crop duster planes and no jets.)
“The Central Florida Business and Aviation Center will be a true multi-model transportation hub.” (No basis for this comment.)
“This is probably the only airport in the state with a positive cash flow.”(??)
“The proposed location is excellent because it is wide open with lots of buffer space.” (The proximity to a large migratory bird population in the 20,000 acre marsh system will create major hazards to jet traffic. A Google query for Airplane-Bird Strike will show what a huge problem this is).
“WOAA has an environmental report that looks clean.” (No detailed study has been done.)
“Building a new larger airport would allow for flight approaches over Lake Apopka to minimize noise effects on neighbors.” (Guy Haggard, 2004)
J. FOLA supports the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) in opposition to the airport based on their research, which shows the Lake Apopka Marsh provides extremely valuable habitat for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds, home of several federally listed species and an important breeding site for Black-necked stilts, an increasingly rare species. In 1998, ABC designated the NSRA as a Globally Important Bird Area, which will increase attention from birders all over the world and help in the development of an ecotourism-based economy in the area.

K. Transfer of the airport by donation to WOAA, a public entity, eliminates property taxes on the site. Funding received by WOAA is from public funds and the amount already spent has not produced a defensible project.

L. FOLA joins landowners near the proposed airport in opposition to the airport location because the entire area of Lake Jem and other residential areas fall within the “Hazard Zone” and this will reduce property values and re-sale potential.

M. One of the advantages advertised as a reason to join WOAA was the ability to obtain a seat on the MPO Board. WOAA appointed the City of Winter Garden and Ocoee to share the seat and split the cost. No clear policy has been presented and the MPO already has a full board. No clarifications have been presented about: whether the cities must support and fund WOAA to get the seat, whether they get the seat if no airport is built, whether they can be seated now, whether the MPO is considering ousting the Sanford Airport to make a seat available to WOAA, etc., etc.

N. FOLA again goes on record in support of the science and engineering staff of SJRWMD. The massive restoration plan proposed by this competent group for a project of unprecedented scale has proven successful. When adaptive management changes and new techniques were required their decisions were validified. SJRWMD staff and Board of Directors should always insist on supporting science-based decisions rather than political ones.

O. FOLA urges all government agencies to withhold further funding to WOAA until all studies, including feasibility, environmental, site selection, master design planning, etc. are completed. The following are listed as funding sources: Orange County, City of Apopka, City of Ocoee, City of Winter Garden, State of Florida and FAA.

P. FOLA recommends that SJRWMD recognizes there will be competition for water level manipulation throughout the chain of lakes. Since Lake Apopka is the headwaters, restoration of this lake should receive priority when levels are low. Recommendations of the SJRWMD staff should be followed since they are science based and closely monitored.

Q. FOLA continues to object to any future management plan that allows proliferation of hydrilla or any other non-native invasive plant species in Lake Apopka. The negative effects on over-all habitat values are well documented.

R. A number of organizations and municipalities have gone on record in opposition to this airport after close evaluations of environmental and economic issues.
( Attachments 8-Fla Wildlife Federation, 9-Oklawaha Valley Audubon, 10-HRA, 11-Editorial, 12-Editorial, 13-Editorial, 14-Orange Audubon )

Download this entire Position Paper with all attachments in a single PDF here...

Lake Apopka Basin Master Plan

In 2001, FOLA commissioned Land Design Innovations to prepare a conceptual master plan for Lake Apopka Basin. See this conceptual master plan for greenways, trails, recreation and ecotourism opportunities in the Lake Apopka Basin at Master Plan. Note: This is a large file and may take a minute to load.

Lake Apopka Timeline

Sunrise over the FlowwayWe have updated our Lake Apopka Timeline to include events that have occured through August 2011. See this latest version at Timeline. If you do not have a PDF file reader you may get the free Adobe reader by clicking the link below.

 link to Adobe Reader download site


FOLA LogoOur primary purpose as a well-informed citizen group is to stay focused on the fundamental goal of restoring Lake Apopka to the valuable resource it once was. If you share this goal, we welcome and need you to get involved and become an active member.
You can start by clicking Membership for more information.

Water, Water Everywhere ?

The concerns surrounding water conservation are important to every resident of West Orange County. For some good information on this critical topic, see:
Water, Water, Everywhere?...
Plant Management in Florida Waters...
Floridan Aquifer...
Florida's Water...
Mirage, Florida and the Vanishing Water of the Eastern U.S.

Oakland Nature Preserve

Lake from boardwalk By the mid-1990’s, the restoration of the long polluted and endlessly abused Lake Apopka was under way. The Board of Directors of the Friends of Lake Apopka, the main citizen advocacy group for the lake, realized that long-term citizen support for the restoration process was necessary and also noted that, as the lake was restored, development pressures in the basin would increase. This led to a search to find land now on the shoreline where the restoration could be interpreted for the public, providing a window on this process with a boardwalk to the lake.  The result became the beautiful Oakland Nature Preserve.

Birding History

For an excellent article with a concise history of birding on the reclaimed North Shore of Lake Apopka, see Florida's Special Places: Lake Apopka on Audubon of Florida News. The author has been birding there since 1998 and includes some very nice pictures.


Keep up with what's happening at the St Johns River Water Management District with the latest Water News.

Lake County Parks & Trails

Read about upcoming nature hikes and bird surveys in the current issue of the Lake County Parks & Trails Newsletter .

Green Mountain Scenic Byway

Scenic Highway Website LogoYes, Florida does have hills! Beginning at the Howey Crossroads (the intersection of Lake County Roads 455 and 561), the Green Mountain Scenic Byway winds southeast along Lake County Roads 455 and Old Highway 50 for 12 ½ miles through some of the highest hills of the Lake Wales Ridge. See the Green Mountain Scenic Byway Master Plan at this new Green Mountain Scenic Byway Project Website.