Lake Apopka is located west of Orlando and mostly in Orange County, but the western part is in Lake County. Lake Apopka is the fourth largest lake in Florida and one of the largest in the United States. It forms the headwaters of the Harris chain of lakes and the Ocklawaha River. It is over 30,000 acres in size, with a drainage basin of 119,773 acres. Approximately 30% of the lake is fed by the Gourd Neck Spring; the remainder is direct rainfall and stormwater runoff. The only surface water outflow from Lake Apopka is the Apopka-Beauclair Canal, which flows north into Lake Beauclair and the Harris chain. Discharge from the canal is controlled at the Apopka-Beauclair Lock and Dam, which influences lake stage. From Lake Dora, water flows into Lake Eustis, then into Lake Griffin and then northward into the Ocklawaha River, which flows into the St. Johns River.
Lake Apopka has a history of more than 100 years of human alteration, beginning with construction of the Apopka-Beauclair Canal in 1888. In 1941, a levee was built along the north shore to drain 20,000 acres (80 km²) of shallow marsh for farming. In 1947, a hurricane destroyed much of the lake’s aquatic vegetation. One month later, the first of many recorded algae blooms occurred. The added discharge of water, rich in nutrients from agricultural and other sources, produced conditions that created a chronic algal bloom and resulted in loss of the lake’s recreational value and game fish populations. In the late 1990s, birds at the lake were actually falling from the sky and dying in large numbers. Most of the dead birds were White Pelicans, but Great Egrets and Ring-billed gulls made up most of the other deaths. The deaths were thought to be tied to pesticides that farmers depended on for decades, called organochlorines.
Restoration of Lake Apopka has been supported by several watershed efforts, including the 1993 Surface Water Improvement and Management (SWIM) Plan for Lake Apopka and most recently, Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) development. The 1999 Florida Watershed Restoration Act outlines an innovative process for implementing total daily maximum loads (TMDLs) by creating BMAPs with participation local stakeholders. In August 2007, the Upper Ocklawaha BMAP was completed. This plan identifies water quality restoration goals (TMDL targets), management actions (programs and projects), an implementation strategy (funding, timelines, etc.) and an adaptive management approach based on water quality monitoring.
The BMAP addresses a wide variety of pollutant sources in the watershed. For Lake Apopka, the primary focus was on nutrient removal via a marsh flow-way system, management of urban stormwater, management of agricultural nutrient loading and restoration of the historic agricultural areas on the north side of the lake. Those management actions considered technically feasible, financially viable and environmentally beneficial were included in the BMAP. Use of these criteria resulted in a list of management actions that integrates a wide variety of programs and activities sponsored by members of the Working Group.
An adaptive management approach is also included in the BMAP to identify and make modifications when circumstances change or when feedback mechanisms indicate that a more effective strategy is needed. Tracking implementation, monitoring water quality and pollutant loads and periodic Working Group meetings to share information and expertise are key components of the adaptive management approach.
This group met nearly monthly from June 2004 through June 2006, with three subsequent meetings through the end of 2007. Through a consensus-based process, they jointly developed the BMAP, with guidance provided by the Department of Environmental Protection and significant support from the St. Johns River Water Management District. In addition, a number of special briefings and presentations were carried out as needed for city councils, county commissions, elected official liaisons from local governments, special interest groups, community organizations and others.
The estimated cost of the management actions included in the Upper Ocklawaha BMAP for Lake Apopka totals more than $125 million. Funding sources range from local stormwater fees to regional and state cost-share grants and legislative appropriations.
Local partners: 22 local governments; six state agencies; Florida Department of Environmental Protection; St. Johns River Water Management District.
Lake Apopka Boat Ramps:
Apopka/Beauclaire Canal–Lake Gem Park (#81)
From Tavares go south on SR 19. Turn left onto 561 and go 1.6 miles to CR 448. Turn left on CR 448 and go 3.3 miles to park entrance. Turn left from CR 448 into park and follow road to ramp.
Single-lane ramp with unimproved parking lot capable of accommodating 20 vehicles. Bank fishing is allowed. Picnic facilities are available.
Lake Apopka–Magnolia Park (#67)
Head south on U.S. 441 south of Zellwood and turn right on CR 437 in Plymouth. Follow CR 437 for 5.2 miles to Magnolia Park. Turn right into park entrance and follow road to ramp.