FOLA News

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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  • May 15, 2015 8:28 PM | FOLA Webmaster
    To:      Kathleen Greenwood, FDEP

                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?

     

  • January 08, 2015 2:15 PM | FOLA Webmaster

    (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 ATTRACTIONS
    In 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 FOUNDATION
    FOLA 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 PROGRESSION
    The 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 TIMELINE
    For 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.

  • January 05, 2015 11:54 PM | FOLA Webmaster
    To: All Interested Persons
    From: Friends of Lake Apopka
    Re: Coalition for Lake Apopka Ecotourism

    Since there has been considerable confusion and some misconceptions about the Lake Apopka planning process, I present a brief history of the project. It is my hope we will not have to spend much time discussing goals, objectives, vision statements, etc. if we agree on those already discussed. I hope we can quickly agree on such things as the structure of the group, operation of the group, even the name of the group. I present the recommendations of FOLA for points of discussion.
    Jim Thomas

    Since the initial discussions focused on the restoration of Lake Apopka, interest has continued to rise regarding how the lake and shorelines will be treated. While the lake is not restored, it has shown steady improvement and now is the time to increase interest in the process and begin plans to insure economic as well as ecologic restoration.

    Friends of Lake Apopka incorporated in 1991 and began the important process of educating the public about problems and potential projects and received a great deal of interest from the State legislature as well as numerous environmental organizations, local governments, and research groups. The group funded a planning firm to study ideas for a Planning Initiative which was published by Canin Associates in February 2000. A second project followed which published the Lake Apopka Basin Master Plan in January 2002. Both plans presented many basic ideas about our planning efforts and are available on the FOLA website (FOLA.org). Perhaps we can start our efforts by reviewing these.

    The need for planning was further emphasized at the Lake County Summit on Regional Issues which was held on February 8, 2013 where a number of presentations were provided from various State and Local governments and non-profits on the issues facing Lake Apopka. Following this meeting, Lake County asked Orange County to join them in an effort to prepare a detailed master plan for the Lake Apopka basin.

    The City of Apopka funded a planning study for a portion of the Lake Apopka North Shore focusing on about 1,000 acres, forming a steering committee mad holding 2 public meetings to obtain input.

    Orange County held a meeting on July 22, 2014 to continue the formation of a committee that could focus on all assets offered by development of the Lake Apopka Basin. The group developed the following goal for the Ecotourism Plan : “Establish the Lake Apopka Region as a Premier Ecotourism Mecca” with the following objectives:
    • Attracting tourists to visit the area by providing public access points, ensuring that user groups respect the restoration plan and to provide educational tourism opportunities, both environmental and historic. All activities or initiatives taken to achieve the goals should have a positive impact on the region and improve the environmental quality of the lake.
    • A vision statement was adopted from one that was taken from the City of Apopka Lake Apopka North Shore Ecotourism Plan:
    • A world class ecotourism destination which balances economic development with the protection and restoration of Lake Apopka’s vast and unique environmental resources to create significant nature-based opportunities for both visitors and residents of Central Florida.

    FOLA Recommendations

    1. Name of the group "Coalition for Lake Apopka Ecotourism"
    2. Structure of the group:
    a) Form a full coalition that includes both counties, City of Apopka, Winter Garden, Ocoee, Oakland, Montverde, Mount Dora, Environmental groups (FOLA ,Audubon, others).
    b) Break up the group into committees, perhaps based on regions (Apopka area, Winter Garden-Oakland, Lake County, etc).
    c) Have alternate monthly meetings (Committees and full membership)
    d) Begin listing current existing assets for ecotourism development and proposed projects
    e) Have coalition hear presentations from committees, vote whether to approve. Have each member group present one or two delegates which will vote? (We have some opposition groups to the eco-plan. What happens if they oppose)?
    3. Presentation of our plans: when a project is approved, a group is selected to plan it and present it to the right agency, group, etc. then have the coalition politic for acceptance. Make this an on-going process, don’t wait to produce a list before we start working toward approval.
    4. Funding, as usual, will be our biggest problem. Presentation plans should include possible funding sources.
    5. Determine the best way to do things like branding our projects and day-to-day activities (record keeping, publicity, website, Facebook, etc.)
    6. Once we start listing possible projects, we need to schedule a thorough bus tour of the entire basin to help us decide the best locations, etc.
    7. Define the area covered by the coalition: suggest using the Drainage Basin delineation.
  • December 01, 2014 4:13 PM | FOLA Webmaster

    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 shall@sjrwmd.com or (386) 329-4368.

  • November 03, 2014 4:55 PM | FOLA Webmaster

    We are happy to announce the public workshops to be held in October 2014 in each of the water managment districts.  See below for a list of workshop dates and cities to find one near you.

    • Wednesday, October 8, 1 PM, Live Oak (SRWMD/DEP)
    • Thursday, November 13, 1 PM, Palatka (SJRWMD/DEP)
    • Monday, October 20, 1 PM, West Palm Beach (SFWMD/DEP)
    • Monday, October 27, 1 PM (CST)/2 PM (EST), Panama City (NWFWMD/DEP)
    • Wednesday, October 29, 10 AM, Brooksville (SWFWMD/DEP)

    Please visit our SB 536 Study web page at www.dep.state.fl.us/water/reuse/study.htm for more details, including workshop locations.  These workshop meetings are open to the public and were noticed in the August 25, 2014, Florida Administrative Register.

    Thank you,

    SB536 Study Team
    sb536study@dep.state.fl.us

  • October 20, 2014 5:57 PM | FOLA Webmaster

    Please make every effort to attend the meeting on November 6 at 5:30 PM. We have to make some serious decisions and I want everyone involved. I have to limit the meeting to 1-hour so please get there on time!

    We have reached a critical time in the history of FOLA involvement in the restoration of Lake Apopka. We organized in 1990, incorporated in 1991 and since that time we have been instrumental in moving the process along. We spent a lot of time with key legislators who eventually got the process started, appropriated money to buy the farms (more than 100 million dollars), got public involvement and spent many years advocating for a scientific approach to the process.

    We still have issues that could compromise the restoration: projects like the proposed airports that could scuttle the bird migration, attempts by other organizations and agencies to grow hydrilla for fish habitat, remove the dikes that would flood the marshes, new projects that will prevent restoration of parts of the basin (chemical treatment project in the only plot we could restore as a Wet Prairie ecosystem), proposals on the north shore that would be counter-productive in the nutrient removal process, competition for opening the floodgates to provide more water downstream, etc., etc., It has been a long, hard struggle but we have had help from many sources and relied a great deal on the SJRWMD staff who have done their best on this massive project, unprecedented in magnitude of pollution and size.

    We are now seeing some potential to boost the restoration process and even to start initiating projects that will provide eco-tourism that will expand as the restoration of the Apopka basin continues.

    Now, FOLA must make major decisions about our continued involvement. I have been asked to have us play a major role in this process. We cannot agree until we know we are able to step up to it. We have our next board meeting on Thursday, November 6 at 5:30 P.M. at the Oakland Nature Preserve where we will determine whether we will take on a major role. This is particularly important to me but I cannot commit until I have the consensus of the board. Please make every effort to be there to hear the details.

    A number of people who are “advisors” also receive these notices. I urge you to try to attend this board meeting to give us your input. This is a very important step which I hope we can do, but I am not willing to proceed until I know we can do it!

    Jim Thomas
    FOLA President 

  • October 06, 2014 5:14 PM | FOLA Webmaster

    Amendment 1 gives Florida voters a direct opportunity to keep drinking water clean, protect our rivers, lakes, and springs, restore natural treasures like the Everglades, and protect our beaches and shores.

    Amendment 1 is our best opportunity to address threats to our water quality and keep pollution out of our waters—without any increase in taxes.

    Floridians understand the value of clean and abundant water for people and wildlife, and they cherish the natural areas that make Florida special. That’s why Amendment 1 would ensure that these values have a place in our state’s constitution.

    To learn why FOLA believes you should care about this important choice, visit VoteYesOn1. FOLA's endorsement is in process.

  • September 08, 2014 5:15 PM | FOLA Webmaster

     Two parcels of land in the Northeast corner of the North Shore area that were not included in the original plan have recently been offered for sale by St Johns River Water management District. See offer...
    FOLA has told the SJRWMD that we are interested in whether these parcels can be included in our ecotourism planning.

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