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.