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Orange Lake Drained

One of the finest bass fishing lakes in the country has been reduced from 12,550 acres to less than 5000 acres in a few days. Orange Lake, in AlachuaCounty, is now a wetland a few inches deep. After several years of drought, and a sinkhole that reopened suddenly last week, the lake started disappearing, as local residents watched with sadness.                              Orange Lake Draining 2/01  - from boat ramp          

Thousands of bass, catfish, and bream lay dead or
dying, gasping for breath. The bay at Heagy-Burry park is now a mucky mess, with no access, even by airboats. (On Jan 13th, 2 men had to be rescued by helicopter when their airboat got stuck near the park.)

Orange Lake DrainedWhen the lake was full, the average depth of the lake was around 8'-9', with the depth over the sinkhole around 35'. It has been 45 years since the lake has drained this low, when the sinkhole had first opened. Residents then threw old cars and debris in the hole, anything to stop the flow. 



Orange Lake Drained and burning 5/01 - same view as above

Lake Lochloosa's marinas are high and dry, at least 6' above the waterline. With the drought now in its third year, fish camp owners, fishing guides and marinas have had to close their doors and find work elsewhere. The days of catching 12 lb bass have long disappeared, along with the lake. The recreational use of the two lakes contributed almost $3.5 million in sales to the area. In the 80. s, the total was $6.4 million, according to the St. John's River Water Management District Report.

It is natural for lakes to rise and fall, due to rainfall (or lack thereof), and evaporation. It is sometimes also good for a lake to dry to get rid of the many feet of muck and hydrilla that accumulates and hinders fish breeding. Nature has a way of going through cycles, but geologists say there is no guarantee that Orange Lake will ever get back to its normal size. And due to the drought, and the fact we are almost 30" under normal rainfall (which means even if we get our normal rainfall this year, we will still be 30" under...), the aquifer has dropped so much, the weight of the lake broke the plug above the sinkhole causing it to open. If the aquifer was at its normal levels, the pressure would be more even, and maintain the lake level.

This catastrophic drop in Orange Lake is not just the drought, or evaporation, or diverting part of the lake to other sources, or the opening of the sinkhole and the dropping of the aquifer, but a total of all these things happening at once. I have lived near this lake for 18 years, fishing, canoeing, boating and photographing it's many changing seasons. To watch this ecosystem die, with its thousands of birds, bald eagles, ospreys, alligators, turtles, snakes and fish, is more heartbreaking than anyone can know. For now, nature will take its course.

There are no plans for intervention. Whether this is good or bad remains to be seen. Do you notice how we dimiss these occurances as aberrations, forgetting the aberrations are becoming the norm, and finding the aberrations are becoming more frequent, and at a faster pace? We are not blameless, either.

Orange Lake Drained Welcome to Orange Prairie....

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Orange Lake at Sinkhole 5/01

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