The koi fish have escaped their ponds.
The colored carp now swim above the submerged garden trails of Cedar Lakes Woods and Gardens in Williston.
Excessive rainfall has damaged vegetation, flooded three koi ponds and made the entire lower level of the botanical garden inaccessible.
The former lime rock quarry now features man-made waterfalls, hundreds of semitropical plants and a 100 lb. blue catfish named “Big Ben”, thanks to the tireless efforts of Ray Webber, who originally built the lush gardens for his own private fishing hole. His personal hobby has been going strong for over twenty years and open to the public for the past five years. Now, much of his vision resides under water.
That wasn’t part of the plan.
“The whole lower level is affected, and people want to see that and walk down there,” said Lori Wallace, general manager. “That is part of the charm.”
The quarry’s water level depth is measured daily and is currently 30 feet. The normal water level is 20 feet.
Three of the garden’s six koi fish ponds on the lower level were submerged by rising water, allowing the fish to freely swim around the lower levels of the quarry.
Staff spent two weeks moving plants to dryer ground, but not all survived.
“Looks like we are probably going to lose our sago palms,” Wallace said. “We’ve lost some very nice azaleas.”
Cedar Lakes Woods and Gardens is in the Southwest Florida Water Management District that includes the Withlacoochee, Hillsborough and Peace rivers.
Granville Kinsman, the hydrologic data manager at the SWFWMD, said water levels they monitor have elevated over historical averages. He said this past December was their third wettest December in 103 years.
“Our normal dry season starts in October and typically during that period we only get about three inches a month,” Kinsman said. “We’ve been getting maybe one and a half or two times that in December alone.”
Wallace is confident the water will eventually subside. In the meantime, some visitors tell her they will visit again after the water goes down.
Rob Mathews, event coordinator for the upcoming Ultimate Scale Truck Expo, said this is the third time he has hosted the remote-controlled scale truck group at the gardens. He said the rising water made him rethink some of the trails for the model trucks, but wouldn’t stop the event from taking place.
Ohio residents, Wendy and Mike Gruskiewicz, visited the garden on a cloudy Friday afternoon. They came to Florida to ride their horse and carriage in nice weather.
“What a shame that the water level is so high where it covers the walkways,” Mike Gruskiewicz said.
Wallace is banking on Mother Nature to return the water levels to normal.
“It’s kind of silly to worry about something you have no control over,” Wallace said. “We know it’s going to go down eventually.”