One year after Hurricane Ian caused record flooding throughout the Central Florida area, local and state officials met at Leu Gardens on the morning of Sept. 29 to celebrate funding for a chain of lakes that impacts Orlando, Winter Park, and unincorporated Orange County.
Thanks to the efforts of Orlando-based nonprofit Friends of the Loch Haven Chain of Lakes, Florida’s fiscal year 2024 budget is including $1.35 million for management studies at lakes Formosa, Estelle, Rowena, Winyah and Sue. According to Friends of Loch Haven President Shan Atkins, the studies will focus on nutrient load analysis and stormwater modeling.
“The product of those analyses will form the basis for recommendations from St Johns River Water Management District about what should be done for the basin,” Atkins told the32789. “Then, the discussion starts between the municipalities – trilateral lake basin management that will consider prioritizing solutions, additional funding, and how it all fits in with local priorities.”
Among the speakers at the Sept. 29 event was St Johns River Water Management District Executive Director Michael Register, who said the scope of work for the studies has begun with stakeholder and government meetings to follow. Atkins said that opportunities for public meetings will be addressed once the timing of the studies is established.
Winter Park Vice Mayor Sheila DeCiccio also spoke, and cited the importance of the studies to Winter Park.
“Lake Sue is the first receiving body that drains into the City of Winter Park’s iconic Chain of Lakes,” she said. “The findings of this study will provide us guidance on a basin management plan for the three jurisdictions involved. This information will identify pollutant sources and develop recommendations to improve water quality.”
Formed by residents of neighborhoods surrounding the Loch Haven lakes, Friends of the Loch Haven Chain of Lakes succeeded in upgrading Orlando Lift Station 3 after an August 2020 wastewater spill impacted lakes Estelle, Rowena, and Formosa. The group continued working to gain city and county support for addressing issues that include stormwater management, and contamination stemming from excessive vegetation.
While the chain impacts three jurisdictions, they all fall under one district in the Florida House and Senate. But Atkins says that, despite party and municipal lines, getting local and state representatives to work together was not a challenge. “I do think we have public servants who want to be responsive and do the right thing,” she said. “This is very much a bipartisan issue and a community issue.”
Once the basin studies begin, Register estimates they will take 10-14 months to complete. The trilateral plan of addressing issues for short-and long-term solutions would then begin. Despite the timeline, Atkins feels much closer to the goal than she and her fellow residents were a few months ago.
“This is like 5% of the way to the finish line,” she said. “Now the work begins to really understand what’s going on in the lake basin and to make plans for improvement.”