Lake Apopka Timeline
prepared by Friends of Lake Apopka
PO Box 770355 | Winter Garden | FL 34777-0355
Historians do not agree as to when the first human settlers arrived in the Lake Apopka area. Aboriginal culture, especially on the northeast shore of the lake has been documented occurring continuously from at least 10,000 B.C. to about 400 A.D. These unnamed tribes were undoubtedly ancestors to the natives thriving in the area when the Spanish arrived. The Spanish called them Timucuans.
Historic outfall from the lake was primarily through Double Run Swamp on the west side of the lake, to Lake Harris. By the mid 1800’s, white settlers began farming the south shores.
Lake Apopka has experienced dramatic changes in its environmental health over the past century. A once plentiful and productive lake, the second largest lake in Florida, was a renowned fishing paradise where anglers from all over the world came hoping to land a trophy bass. The clear, pristine lake was home to 29 fish camps on its 40 miles of shoreline.
This changed, starting in 1941, with the establishment of 20,000 acres of vegetable muck farms. The filtering marshes on the north shores were drained to make room for the farms. Massive quantities of nutrients were pumped into the lake from the farms, municipal sewage, and effluent from citrus processing. The high nutrient loading encouraged widespread algae blooms, blocking sunlight and choking productive submerged plants and causing a decline in game fish populations. Clean up measures failed. Eventually, only undesirable fish feeding on the algae could survive in these extreme conditions.
The fish camps all closed and the “green” lake became known as the most polluted large lake in Florida. This condition has endured for more than 40 years. In 1991, The Friends of Lake Apopka (FOLA) organized, advocating the restoration of the lake. This broad based citizens group appealed to agricultural interests to change their farming practices, and sought public support to restore the lake. After years of work FOLA endorsed the Lake Apopka Restoration Act of 1996 in the Florida Legislature. This led to the $100 million public purchase of the muck farms to stop the nutrient pollution flow. St. Johns River Water Management District is the Florida public agency charged with the responsibility of purchasing the farms and restoring the lake.
The restoration of the lake has began, although it is anticipated to be a slow, complicated process. At the end of the decade of the 1990’s, measurement of water quality variables indicate the condition of the lake improved more than 30%. However, the unprecedented scale and complexity of the restoration will be challenges for years to come. Cumulative pesticide residues, unexplained bird fatalities, involvement of the Federal Government and urban development, are all part of the scientific, political and economic landscape of restoration.
FOLA continues actively advocating a healthy lake, supporting efforts for recreational trails and access to the lake, development guidelines to control pollution from development, and a rule to decrease future phosphorous discharge to the lake. All citizens must continue to monitor and be informed about the progress of the restoration.