published: Friday, February 15, 2013
Lake Clay stormwater retrofit project a cooperative effort
By CORINE BURGESS
Special to the News-Sun
LAKE PLACID - Land, in its natural state, has a way of keeping everything in check. Rainfall, for example, in the natural environment would soak into the forest floor, flow underground, be filtered by natural processes and then eventually feed nearby water bodies. This natural process is interrupted when the land is covered with roads, parking lots, and buildings. Roofs, concrete, asphalt and other impervious surfaces do not allow rainfall to soak into the earth.
Instead, the rainfall runs over the roads, fields and other surfaces picking up pollutants, such as oil, gasoline, pesticides, fertilizers and trash along the way. The water then runs into a nearby stormdrain or body of water without the benefit of filtration. This is called stormwater runoff.
According to the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD), "Stormwater runoff is perhaps the most visible impact to lake water quality in the Ridge lake region. Older urban areas developed prior to the 1984 enactment of stormwater treatment regulations, produce runoff that is virtually untreated prior to discharging to nearby lakes. As a result, the lakes in these areas have been acting as catch basins for urban runoff pollution."
Over a decade ago, some Lake Placid residents were concerned enough about stormwater flow into Lake Clay to speak up about it. The nutrient levels in the lake were too high and they wanted something to be done to protect this beautiful body of water. As conscientious citizens, they approached Highlands County Lakes Manager Clell Ford and voiced their concerns.
By June 2003, the SWFWMD completed the Lake Wales Ridge Lake Screening Project, which was a study of Ridge area lakes to determine which were at risk from stormwater runoff and in need of preservation. Lake Clay came up as one of the five lakes that were identified. The others include McCoy, June, Tulane and Isis.
As a result of the study, the SWFWMD deemed the Lake Clay watershed area in need of a stormwater retrofit. Proposed treatment in this area included an exfiltration system for the plaza parking lot, trench drains in the existing drainage easement between Lake Clay Road and Lake Clay as well as other techniques.
Pam Fentress was a member of the SWFWMD Governing Board for several years in the early 2000s. She pushed behind the scenes to get the SWFWMD Lake Wales Ridge Lakes Screening Project done. The screening project was completed by SWFWMD staffers Keith Kolasa and Dr. Patricia Dooris. It led to the best management practices report in 2007.
Many agencies joined forces to get the project off the ground. The lead agency was the SWFWMD, which provided 75 percent of the total funding up to $318,364.19. Other agencies that assisted included the Highlands County Board of County Commission with a contribution of $31,250, the Tourist Development Tax Lakes Special Projects fund of $40,000, the Highlands Soil and Water Conservation District with a $10,000 commitment and the Highlands County Infrastructure Surtax of $24,871.40. The county commission also assisted with acquisitions of easements and rights of way. The town of Lake Placid obtained easements from the owner of the Tower Plaza, which is within the lake's watershed.
The project broke ground in September 2012 and was completed in January 2013. The work was performed by a local firm, Excavation Point, and the managing engineering firm, AMEC, from Lakeland. The project came in $100,000 under budget.
The Lake Clay Stormwater Retrofit project would simply not have been completed if private citizens, governmental entities, corporations and other agencies hadn't worked together toward a common goal. Ford said, "This project has shown real initiative on the part of the local folks to work with agencies regarding water quality on Lake Clay. The fact that the project came in so far under budget shows how cost conscious the Southwest Florida Water Management District staff are."
Debra Worley, Lake Placid town councilperson, said, "This project would not be in place if the private sector including corporations and citizens, government, municipalities, special districts, county, water district and state entities had not all worked together to save Lake Clay."
The Lake Clay Project is expected to reduce pollutant loadings substantially every year, removing more than 2,700 pounds of total suspended solids, 148.2 pounds of total nitrogen, 17.5 pounds of total phosphorus, 6.1 pounds of lead and 4.9 pounds of zinc from water draining into the lake.
Plantings of Ridge native plant species will be used to beautify the area. This vegetation will require little or no irrigation and will be cared for by the contractor for the first year. The Lake Placid Garden Club has reviewed the vegetation plan and is delighted. Once the first year is over, the club will maintain the plants as part of a Nation Garden Club request in part of a Clean Water Project.
Thanks to the passion of caring citizens, the efforts of various agencies and funding from several entities, Lake Clay will be preserved for future generations.
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