The Rise and Fall of Orange Lake - Again

December 2011 - April 2012

Here we go is December 2011, and I have been watching Orange Lake, Cross Creek and Lake Lochloosa disappear before my eyes.

Orange Lake Boat Slips Orange Lake Boat Slips Orange Lake Boat Slips
Boat Slips Dec 06 2011 Boat Slips Dec 23 2011 Boat Slips Jan 06 2012
Marina Marina Marina
Marina Dec 06 2011 Marina Dec 23 2011 Marina Jan 06 2012
Orange Lake Boat Slips Orange Lake Boat Slips Orange Lake Boat Slips
Boat Ramp Dec 23 2011 Boat Ramp Jan 06 2012 Boat Ramp Jan 06 2012
Orange Lake Orange Lake
Orange Lake Jan 6 2012 Orange Lake Apr 15 2012

Fish camps are high and dry, with the boat slips about 10' above whatever water is left. Orange Lake normally covers over 13,000 acres, famous for it bass fishing and duck hunting in the winter. Huge alligators and numerous species of birds and animals call this home. When the water levels are high, the lakes supported many businesses and drew fishermen from around the country. We have been in an extended, near-record drought, which now may be the norm for our climate here in North Central Florida.

This is not the first time Orange Lake has drained. In 1956 and 1998, the lake turned dry, once where the sinkhole by Heagy Burry park opened in a dry year, and again during another drought. The lake recovered by 2004, but has been slowly dropping ever since, nearly 10 feet from its peak. However, from early December to now, it seems as if the plug has been pulled again. We were able to get a boat out to what was left of the lake on Dec 6. On Dec 23, we could not even put our canoe in. The area is now a mud hole, where one can see that whatever water is left, is rushing down into the sinkhole, with thousands of dead fish littering the area. St John's Water Management Officials think this is a rainfall issue, and yes, we are at an almost 15" deficit for this year alone, but I think we are dealing with a far more disturbing problem.

We are not just losing water in Orange Lake, and seeing Cross Creek disappear, but almost all local bodies of water have dropped to record low levels. Our rivers have reduced their flows by more than half, where some springs are not pumping any water out at all anymore. (How does a river stop flowing???) I am a cave diver, and a licensed USCG Captain running eco and dive charters in the area, and I can tell you from experience that the flows in the caves (which is really our aquifer) has been greatly reduced. My face mask no longer gets ripped from my face by the current as in years past. I can no longer run charters on many of my favorite bodies of water because of lack of water. The St John's Water Management District is trying to tell us the reason our lakes are at their record lows is a lack of rainfall.... I beg to differ.

We need to understand how our aquifer works. Underground, the rocks look like Swiss cheese, where the water flows through, creating new pathways in the karst rock. Imagine it like a sponge, where you stick a straw in it, and withdraw water. Imagine that sponge goes from Jacksonville to Orlando and Tampa. Unlike a barrel, where you only withdraw from that barrel, when you withdraw from one end of the sponge, it is drawing from the whole sponge to fill the void.

What we are experiencing is a huge sucking sound from Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa, as they withdraw more and more water. They look to Marion County and it's springs for their future water needs. The water management folks want us to believe it is only the drought, and not that they have issued too many pumping permits (including agriculture and manufacturing) or that more and more water bottling companies are allowed to pump at will. (Why we need water to be put in plastic bottles only to fill up landfills is beyond me.) We also have an increasing population that demands more and more water each year. There is growing tension between the Suwannee River Management District and the St John's Water Management District because St John's refuses to stop or slow down the consumptive use permits to pump more from the aquifer, causing water to drop in the Suwannee River area.

Gov. Rick Scott has appointed/supported business and industry special interest people who only want to tap deeper into the aquifer and at no cost to them. He is cutting water management district budgets so that developing alternative water supplies or any conservation efforts is being cut off at the knees.

If we think that praying for rain is the only solution to this problem, then we deserve what we get, and we will have to get used to living in a desert with water rationing with no lakes or springs and increasing saltwater intrusion fouling what is left. If you don't want to just stand there and watch as our lakes and rivers disappear, then get involved with your water management issues, and stop denying the real cause of our water problems.

UPDATE Jan 7, 2012

I just read in the Ocala Star Banner that Frank Stronach is asking the St. John's Water Management District for a permit to pump 13.27 MILLION GALLONS A DAY for his upcoming cattle and beef processing plant near Ft McCoy. This amount exceeds the water drawn for the city of Ocala (12.87 mg/day) by almost 1/2 million gallons a day! He plans on having 30,000 cattle on about 10,000 acres. They plan on starting to withdraw the water by July of this year.

The paper wrote that Andreyev Engineering submitted a survey concluding the effect of the water withdrawal will be "minimal". According to them, "The proposed withdrawals are not "predicted" (my quotes) to create impacts that will negatively affect the surface water features, aquifer water elevations, area well withdrawals, area spring flow...and area land uses".

Are they KIDDING????

UPDATE April 15, 2012

Orange Lake is no more. It's not just the drought....Orange Lake is in the Silver Springs recharge area, and when we issue so many Consumptive Use Permits in these times, this is what happens... Several months ago, a group of scientists, environmentalists, and lay people got together to form the Silver Springs Alliance to fight for our springs and water. There was a public meeting on this night in Ocala - over 300 people showed up - including St John's Water management, Andy Kesselring - President of the Alliance, Dr. Robert Knight, who started the Alliance, lawyers, a DEP representative and concerned citizens. It was disheartening to hear how, in the last 3 months, the measured flow of the main spring in Silver Springs has gone from 387cfs to 252cfs. Its historic flow is over 1000cfs! The nitrate levels are over 1000% higher, with a 92% fish reduction.

If the Adena Springs cattle slaughtering operation does get its permit (they are acting as if they already have it - building is already underway, and forests are being cut for the operation), we will lose Silver Springs forever. Right now, the Alliance has retained a law firm (Southern Legal Counsel of Gainesville) to help fight this in the courts, as this seems to be our only option. They need your help.

We must understand that Orange Lake , Silver Springs, and all the other lakes and springs in our area are connected... we must not just focus on one area and issue, but get involved - become vocal and join organizations like the Silver Springs Alliance - Write the St John's River Water Management to express your concerns at

It's Your Water!! Get Informed!! Get involved!!

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