Week 10: The Marsh Flow Way

In 1985 Governor Bob Graham formed the Lake Apopka Restoration Council. Like its predecessor of the 60s, the Lake Apopka Technical Committee sought to determine water quality standards for the lake, and investigate potential routes towards restoration.

After meeting in March 1986, the Council determined a set of standards that would make the lake suitable for recreation and fishing. The archives, unfortunately, don’t have any documents from 1986 to 1989, other than the Council’s 1986 statement of intent.

The FOLA timeline states that the St Johns River Management District, responsible for Lake Apopka, began initiating restoration projects that had been recommended by the Council at this time. One of these projects was what would become the Marsh Flow-Way.

In 1987 SWIM was passed, designating Lake Apopka as a priority body of water. SWIM would increase funding for the lake’s restoration, and in 1988 the Flow-way Pilot Project was begun.

The SJRWMD purchased 5,000 acres of land on the northwest corner of the lake, and construction of the project began December, 1989.


Here’s part of a SWIM factsheet discussing the flow-way. The flow-way is essentially a wetland, using natural processes to remove sediment and phosphorus from the lake. The vegetation slows incoming sediment and helps it to settle to the bottom. The vegetation also blocks the wind, preventing it from churning up the water and reintroducing the sediment into the water column. This is one of the major problems for the lake itself – with such a large surface area and shallow depth, wind has an enormous effect on the lake’s bottom. Vegetation also plays a role in nutrient uptake, directly absorbing nutrients from the water.

Water is pumped through the flow-way and travels through a series of cells:

I think the flow-way should also be understood in contrast to other biological nutrient removal processes that use non-native species. The flow-way, though manmade, uses native wetland species. I’ve mentioned the usage of hyacinth, for example, in nutrient removal systems. As I showed you earlier, this is a highly invasive species with a serious potential to escape any system it’s confined to.

Water began moving through the flow-way in 1990:


This “experimental operation” would be finished in 1997, as the farm buy-outs were gathering steam. A full-size plan would be drawn up. In 2001 the Flow-way began phase 1 of its operation. The flow-way treats around half of the volume of the lake yearly, but this is highly variable.


In this photo, north is to the right. You can see the flow-way’s cells in the top half of the photo, emptying into Lake Apopka. Notice the contrast between the blue water leaving the flowway and the green “soup” of the rest of the lake.

The flow-way is important because simply halting discharge of nutrients into the lake isn’t enough to restore it. The nutrients must be removed to help the lake back into more stable conditions. From 2003 to 2009 the flow-way removed 37,000 lbs of phosphorus, along with 62 million pounds of loose sediment.

Week 10: The Marsh Flow Way

Week 9: The Fish Camps

This week I finally finished up writing the metadata for year 1967. In this year of documents, I came across a photo from the Orlando Sentinel:


The photo shows the docks of Tom’s Fish Camp, on the shores of Lake Apopka near Montverde, in 1967. The camp’s in a state of disrepair – the sportfishing industry declined sharply in the 1960s, as algae and scum began choking the game fish out of the lake.

Researching this camp for the metadata entry revealed a few interesting things. Here’s a photo of the docks during the 1940s:


A lot better days for Tom’s Camp! The 1940s were the sportfishing glory days for Lake Apopka. The archives have dozens if not hundreds of photos of fish camp visitors holding up huge strings of bass. I claimed in an earlier post that Cary Grant visited the lake – this was incorrect. It’s actually claimed that Clark Gable visited Lake Apopka, though it’s difficult to substantiate this claim.

But IF Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart visited Lake Apopka to fish, they would have stayed here:

The Edgewater Hotel in Winter Garden, est. 1927. Photo from here: http://www.puppetkit.com/c/80

That link gives more information about the hotel. Unfortunately, I haven’t found any documents about the hotel in the archives, but the Edgewater would have been the nicest hotel by far in the area at this time. It’s still there in Winter Garden today, right on the main street through town.

Back to Tom’s Fish Camp –


That’s a photo of the cabins at the camp, also from the 1940s. I’m not sure if visitors stayed overnight in these cabins, or simply used them for day visits. My research also turned up this article from Orlando Sentinel, dated 2005:


That article discusses the purchase of the camp property by a private owner. The owner had the cabins removed. Where did they go? One was given to the town of Montverde to be used as a museum. One was given to a local Montverde family with an interest in the camp’s history.

The last cabin? It was donated to the Oakland Nature Preserve, the home of these archives. You can see it as you drive in!

Here’s a current photo:


It’s a little hard to tell which cabin this is from the 1940s photo, but if I had to guess, I’d say it’s that cabin on the far left. I’ll be taking some more photos of the cabin from other angles next time I visit the preserve to better determine this. I’m not sure if you’re allowed to enter the cabin, but I’d like to try and get some interior photos as well.

According to some sources, this cabin was built in the early 1900s! And here it is over a hundred years later.

Week 9: The Fish Camps

Week 8: Lake Apopka in the 1980s

Last week I discussed the 1970s and how Lake Apopka was seemingly passed over by the wave of environmentalism that swept Florida at that time. This wasn’t totally accurate: the Clean Water Act and various other measures did, in fact, impact the lake. As a result of these water protections, Winter Garden’s citrus processing industry and sewage treatment plant began taking serious steps to reduce their discharge into the lake.. By the end of the decade both of these sources of pollution would have greatly improved their treatment processes. The muck farms, though, were overlooked by these protections because their discharge was deemed a “non-point” source. Non-point pollution would become a more visible topic in the late 80s and early 90s.

The 1980s saw a lot of major plans beginning for Lake Apopka. Ironically, this period is not one well-represented in the FOLA archives. Due to this, piecing together a narrative for this period is going to require a bit more research than previous weeks. I want to spend this week, then, giving a brief overview of some of the major events.

The decade seemed to start hopefully, with the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission even stocking the lake with over 150,000 bass fingerlings, in an effort to restore sports fishing.


But this wouldn’t work. In fact, the next year, the FOLA archives show another major fish kill occurring. Described by Harold Moody as “massive”, one report estimates the kill at some 18 million dead fish.

The middle of the decade, though, would see the passing of the Lake Apopka Restoration Act. This legislation established the Lake Apopka Restoration Council and Technical Committee. The archives holds a three-page Statement of Intent by the Council. I’ll go through this in more detail next week. What’s most important is the LARC’s undertaking major studies to develop a comprehensive plan for the lake, and one that would integrate the Water Management District.

Several pilot projects were launched by the LARC in ’86, and “nutrient budgets” are being developed at this time as well. The archives contain several examples of these kinds of “budgets” – we’ll go through one in the future.

In 1987 SWIM is passed: the Surface Water Improvement and Management Act. SWIM would help put Lake Apopka back at the center of Florida’s environmental concerns, naming it as one of seven priority bodies of water to be restored.

In 88′, the first flow-way demonstrations are begun. The flowway will become a massive “filter” for the lake, cycling the entire volume of the lake twice per year.

And finally, in 1989, the St Johns River Management District signs a consent order with the Zellwood Drainage District. This agreement would set the guidelines for Zellwood’s water usage. This agreement would prove highly controversial, eventually spurring concerned citizens to form what will become the Friends of Lake Apopka. This also deserves more detail, in a future update. Stay tuned.

Week 8: Lake Apopka in the 1980s

Week 7: Drawdown and Red Tape

Drawdown and Red Tape

I wrote last week about the Lake Apopka Technical Committee and its efforts towards Lake Apopka restoration. While I’m still tracking down the exact end of this committee, it doesn’t look like it survived the end of Kirk’s tenure as governor. I have yet to come any concrete steps taken by the committee towards restoration.

This is partly due to a gap in the documents from 1969 to 1972. There’s only a few pieces of correspondence from 1969, and then nothing at all until 1972.

The 1970s weren’t a very productive time for Lake Apopka. The documents show a series of delays and institutional foot-dragging. This is interesting because environmentalists achieved some of their greatest successes during the 1970s – the Clean Air Act in ’70, the Water Pollution Control Act in ’72, and the Endangered Species Act of ’73. These are all at the national level, under President Nixon, but locally, Florida, too, was experiencing some of its greatest environmental successes. Conservationists succeeded in halting the construction of the Cross-Florida Barge Canal, a decades-long project that had been fought against almost since its inception. In South Florida, construction of a proposed jetport, slated to be built in the sensitive Big Cypress Swamp area, was also halted. The State legislature passed numerous environmental protection laws, like the Environmental Land and Water Management Act of 1972. Federally, Congress succeeded in passing the Kissimmee River Restoration Act in 1976, which sought to restore the river from its heavily channelized state.

Clearly, the environment was on people’s minds. So why, then, did Lake Apopka get little attention?

One answer is a new awareness of how monumental a task restoring a lake 48 square miles in size would be.


That article, from 1972, discusses some flip-flopping by the EPA regarding funds for Lake Apopka. The EPA had pledged 1.5 million dollars in 1971 for restoration. At the time, the method of choice was “drawdown”. This means lowering the water level, exposing the muddy bottom to the sun. The hope was that this would help consolidate the mucky bottom, making it suitable for plant life. It would also keep nutrients in the muck sequestered, preventing them from entering the water column.

The EPA felt this method was “too experimental” and withdrew their pledge, only to re-pledge the money if follow-up studies could be made.

That was in 1972. A news article from the next year shows the estimated price of drawdown had risen to $2 million, and wasn’t expected to begin until 1977 at the earliest!

By 1976, plans had again stalled. The cost, then, had risen to $2.8 million. Studies still needed to be performed before drawdown could begin.

Here’s an article from 1979, talking about “years of delay” with the project. The project is now being estimated at costing $20 million.


Reference is also made to a drawdown of Lake Eola, which was being used as an example of how successful drawdown could be. This article states that if the costs of the Eola drawdown were extrapolated to a lake the size of Apopka, the cost would be more than $660 million dollars.

So: the 1970s, a golden age for environmentalism in the country and in Florida, didn’t do much for Lake Apopka. My gut feeling is that environmentalists during this period wanted to focus resources on environments that could be “saved”. Lake Apopka was seen as something of a lost-cause.

Alongside the news articles from the 70s discussing the drawdown plans is correspondence from several citizens who had their own project: saving the Gourd Neck Springs area. This section of the lake, shaped like a gourd, holds the only springs in the lake. The Technical Committee, in the late 60s, explored separating this section of the lake with a levee. This would eventually result in a much clearer section of lake, that could possibly be used as a fish nursery. This never happened, either. By the 70s, a few citizens were working to get this area recognized and protected by the state, possibly as a State Park. The correspondence shows various ways they tried to achieve this, including working with the Audubon Society. Ultimately, these efforts would fail too.

Meanwhile, the muck farms were farming as usual, continuing to use the lake as their personal retention pond.

Week 7: Drawdown and Red Tape

Week 6: The Lake Apopka Technical Committee

This week, I am focusing on writing metadata entries for documents from 1967. This is a significant year for Lake Apopka history, marking the first organized effort to understand the problems facing the lake and identify possible solutions.

Contained within the FOLA archives is a letter from Arthur Sinclair, executive secretary of the Winter Garden Chamber of Commerce, to Florida gubernatorial candidate Claude Kirk, explaining the problems Lake Apopka faced and requesting State assistance in restoring the lake. Dated July 13, 1966, sent while Kirk was still campaigning in Miami, this may have been the first time Kirk was made aware of the Lake Apopka issue. Kirk’s response is also in the archives, sent from his Director of Research, Sally Cameron. She states Kirk is personally concerned with the issue, being an “avid fisherman” himself, and that Lake Apopka will be added to a list of Kirk’s conservation programs.


Claude Kirk would go on to win an upset victory over Robert King High later that year, becoming Florida’s first Republican governor since the Reconstruction era. Among his staff was Nathaniel Reed, who served as a “Conservation Aide”. Reed would take a major interest in Lake Apopka and personally spearhead the efforts to begin restoration of the lake.

On April 18, 1967, Kirk held a meeting involving “all Lake Apopka interests” in Tallahassee. From this discussion, the Lake Apopka Technical Committee was formed, with representatives from a dozen or so state agencies and chairmanned by C.W. Sheffield, director of the Orange County Water Conservation Department.

Sheffield’s first action as chairman was to form a Citizen’s Committee, consisting of “interests around the lake”. The Citizen’s and Technical Commitees met jointly on April 20. A copy of the minutes of this meeting is within the FOLA archives. It shows the meeting was an attempt to decide on a “level of restoration” acceptable to these various interests. Most of the groups agreed that the lake be made habitable again for game fish. (A level of restoration that would allow skin-contact recreation, like swimming or water-skiing, was felt to be unrealistic).


On May 10, the Technical Committee set acceptable standards for various chemicals & nutrients in the lake. They also identified the major sources of pollution entering the lake. The FOLA archives contains this data.

Finally, the Committee set a rough plan for restoration of the lake. Their main goal was a major task – completely isolating the muck farms on the North Shore from the lake with a brand new levee. This levee would leave a stretch of water between the farms and the lake that the farms could pollute to their heart’s content.

Some of their other goals were promoting fish habitats through the placing of limestone “fish cribs”, and isolating the Gourdneck Springs area with another levee. The springs are in the southwest corner of the lake, and they are shaped rather like the neck of a gourd. This is the only spot where clean spring water directly enters the lake. By isolating this section, the water therein would be vastly cleaner than the rest of the lake, and the Committee planned to use it as a fish nursery.

None of these goals were ever realized. The farm levee idea seems unfeasible. The farms were using almost 1/3rd of the lake’s volume yearly. There’s just no way to section off enough water for the farms to keep operating as they did. The Springs, too, were never sectioned off. They’ll come up again, though, in the 1970s and 80s. By this time saving the lake seemed unfeasible, and attempts were made to purchase the land surrounding the springs to make them into a protected State park. This would also fail.
To end on a semi-positive note: here’s a photo from Lake Apopka’s heyday. This couple was fishing at the Killarney Fish Camp. The Apopka fish camps, like Killarney, were world famous for their bass fishing. I’ve read that Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart visited. The FOLA archives has dozens of photos like this.


Week 6: The Lake Apopka Technical Committee