WUFT News

Orange Lake Levels Rising for First Time in More Than a Decade

By on April 11th, 2014
The FWC restocked the lake’s depleted largemouth bass population with 100,000 bass fingerlings, but it’ll take at least a year or two before the fish mature and the depleted population is restored.

Lawrence Chan/ WUFT News

The FWC restocked the lake’s depleted largemouth bass population with 100,000 bass fingerlings. It’ll take at least a year before the fish mature and the depleted population is restored.

On a bad day at Orange Lake, Jeff Scepter can’t even get his boats into the water.

Floating piles of mud and vegetation, called tussocks, invade more than a thousand acres of the lake’s surface. Renters could get stuck out in the water if Scepter lets them leave with one of his boats.

“We used to have a lot of winter people come in and spend a couple months at a time fishing,” the Twin Lakes Fish Camp owner said “We’re getting more customers but it hasn’t really picked up like it has in the past.”

Business nearly evaporated with the water as the shoreline receded further and further from Scepter’s boat ramps. After years of receding shores and drought, this year’s rain has restored Orange Lake’s water levels to the highest it’s been in more than a decade, giving hope to local business owners that visitors will return.

Located 20 miles southeast of Gainesville, Orange Lake is North Central Florida’s largest lake. It’s one of 80 bodies of water the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission manages with a county, creating special limits for catching fish.

The lake’s water levels have slowly risen since 2011, moving from 50 feet above sea level to 58 feet, according to the St. Johns Water Management District.

The ­­lake has a history of fluctuating water levels. During times of drought the lake is anywhere between 1,000 acres to 1,200 acres, well below the lake’s normal size of about 13,000 acres, FWC regional freshwater fish biologist Allen Martin said.

Rainfall throughout 2013 and this year restored the lake to its normal size, allowing fish camps and boat rental companies along the lake’s shore to conduct business once again.

Years of drought have taken their toll, and businesses along the shore face new challenges from the restored lake.

Populations of fish on the lake were depleted due to habitat loss and predators feeding during the dry period. Populations of largemouth bass were especially affected, Martin said.

The commission restocked the lake with 100,000 bass fingerlings, juvenile fish between the stages of birth and adulthood, in March to jump start the population. Populations will not normalize for at least another year or two, he said.

Fish populations were previously depleted during a 2004 dry period and weren’t repopulated until 2009.

“The bass population will probably replenish itself over time without restocking,” Martin said. “But we’re hoping to shorten the amount of time until it becomes a really good fishery again.”

Another effect from the drought is the tussocks.

“When the lake goes very low like that it exposes mud flats where plants germinate and grow,” Martin said. “When the lake refills, the plant material becomes buoyant. Sometimes the mud associated with them pops and comes up from the bottom floating.”

The FWC contracted an aquatic harvesting company to clear out 50 acres of the lake along the southern tip. However, it would take the company’s harvesters five years before the lake is cleaned, according to the Ocala Star-Banner.

Casey Cirardin, owner of Sportsman’s Coves Resort, said hers is only one business to suffer losses during the dry years.

“The last six-and-a-half or seven years have been a disaster,” she said. “Quite a lot of the fish camps are out of business now.”

Cirardin’s business was unable to maintain its fish camp during the drought. She introduced long-term rentals of her RV units she had formerly rented for brief periods to visiting fishers.

“I’m not a fish camp anymore,” she said. “I’m just a rental community.”

She said at least three fish camps went out of business during the drought. While this year’s rain restored the lake, her business continues to trickle in slowly.

Few people are aware of the lake’s resurgence, she said.

“It’s so new that people aren’t notified yet,” she said. “Up until a month ago you couldn’t go out to the ramps.”


This entry was posted in Environment and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
 

More Stories in Environment

The invasive air potato vine has met its match with the introduction of the air potato leaf beetle. This beetle could control the aggressive plant.

Air Potato Beetle Becomes Big Help To Florida Farmers

With the controlled release of the air potato leaf beetle in Florida and around the U.S., the aggressive air potato vine finally has a predator.


Attendance at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park increased by more than 100,000 visitors in the 2012-2013 fiscal year.

US Forest Service Proposes Requirements for Photography in Wilderness Areas

The U.S. Forest Service has proposed a rule that would require media to get a permit before filming or photographing in wilderness areas, or else face a fine. The proposed rule has been met with opposition on the grounds that it violates First Amendment rights.


Water-Saving Technologies And Conservation Goals Cut Confusion

According to a recent survey, most people are confused about water conservation. Small efforts add up, but awareness of water consumption is most important, according to GRU.


Only a few areas of the Alachua Sink have open-water surfaces. Rangers believe the cooler, dryer weather typical of Florida winters will kill off some of the vegetation growing on the surface.

Paynes Prairie Trail Undergoes Reclamation Project

Construction on the La Chua Trail in Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park began Monday as part of an effort to re-establish the area of Paynes Prairie as a wetland ecosystem.


Florida-Friendly Landscaping Saves Water And Fertilizer

According to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ Center for Public Issues Education (PIE) website, many Floridians are willing to do their part in conserving water.


Thank you for your support

WUFT depends on the support of our community — people like you — to help us continue to provide quality programming to North Central Florida.
Become a Sustainer
I want to support FM 89.1/NPR
I want to support Florida's 5/PBS
Donate a Vehicle
Day Sponsorship Payments
Underwriting Payments