Marion and Levy counties join Citrus County in cries for help after severe flooding

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Brown water sloshes up against the tires of Dunnellon resident Tony Rosado’s truck as he drives down his neighborhood road. He opens the vehicle door to check the depth. The road beneath is barely visible. Even after the August rains subsided, the water on the road remains.

Rosado and his wife, Cheryl, moved to Dunnellon almost three years ago. Cheryl Rosado said they were never told about the flooding. 

“Nobody told us prior to us buying the house,” she said. “The first year we were here, we were completely underwater.”

Now, they are considering moving.

This comes after severe rain has flooded Citrus County neighborhoods, leaving residents frustrated by the lack of action from the county government that offers little to no solutions.

The Rosados use fences and mailboxes, typically three feet in height, to describe the height of flood waters on the street. Amid the flooding, alligators, snakes and other wildlife posed a significant threat to residents.

Cheryl Rosado said she had to wade through waist-high floodwaters because her vehicle could not drive on the road. She said neighbors warned her of a large alligator in the area.

“I didn’t have a choice,” Cheryl said. “I had a doctor’s appointment, and I had no way to get out.”

A mailbox is submerged in floodwaters in Dunnellon on Oct. 17. (Julian Rush/WUFT News)

The Dunnellon Police Department directed questions about flooding to Troy Slattery of public works. According to Slattery, the public works manager for Dunnellon, emergency responders were not hindered by the flooding and were able to provide emergency services to residents.

“We did have one residential road that retained water for several weeks, however, it did not create a life hazard,” he said.

The Rosados say that’s not true. Emergency response in the area is limited, if not prevented completely, by the flooding. Cheryl Rosado said she has contacted the Army Corps of Engineers, Gov. Ron DeSantis and water management in the area.

The area the Rosados live in is considered outside Dunnellon property. The Marion County Sheriff Department directed questions about the flooding to the Emergency Management Director Preston Bowlin, who did not respond to requests for an interview.

According to the Rosados, the county cannot provide flooding assistance because the residences and the roads are private property.

“I actually called the county, I called the Army Corps of Engineers, I have called Water Management, and they all declined assistance as far as we are concerned,” Cheryl Rosado said, “I said, ‘Why can’t you guys help us?’”

Ryan Lowther, a Dunnellon resident of 12 years, has to walk around his truck each morning before work to check for alligators in the floodwater surrounding his vehicle. Lowther bought a new truck and equipped it with 35-inch mud tires after the flooding became severe. The water was still entering his truck after raising it, he said.

Lowther said the day he worked on his truck to adjust it for the flooding was the day it became most severe.

“We worked on the truck all day long, the big truck with four-wheel drive, just so that I could get home,” he said. “If I didn’t do that I wouldn’t even be able to get home that day.”

“It went crazy deep that day,” Lowther said, “And it’s been like that ever since.”

According to Flood Factor, there are over 230 properties in Dunnellon with an almost 30% chance of being severely affected by flooding in the next three decades. That’s about 15% of the residential properties in the town, according to the site.

Residents in Levy County, including Kenny Eunice in Inglis, are dealing with the same issues. Inglis is classified as “extreme” for flood risk, according to Flood Factor. The site states that 785 properties have an almost 30% chance of flooding in the next 30 years. That is over 60% of all properties in the town.

In addition to flooding from heavy rains in Eunice’s neighborhood,  a pipe that was installed to drain incoming waters was placed too high so it drains the water after the flooding has already begun, he said.

Flooding in these rural neighborhoods can cause septic leakages.

Neighbor Michael Hogan said Eunice’s property fills with water and then flows through a pipe that ends in his lot causing his property to flood as well.

“All of this water is puddling up in the neighborhood, and it’s flooding septic tanks,” Hogan said, “So by the time it gets down to me, [the water] is contaminated with bacteria.”

Hogan said he is concerned for his health and that of his dog, Jackie. His property was underwater for three months, he said.

“It was just a total disaster,” Hogan said.

A sign warns Marion County residents of a flooded area in Dunnellon. (Julian Rush/WUFT News)

The septic water in flooded neighborhoods makes its way into the nearby water habitats, which create a risk of harmful algae blooms.

Lake Rousseau has had an increase in algae since the flooding began, Eunice said.

According to a WUSF article, the leaks themselves may not start algae blooms, but they do fuel them with more nutrients to continue growing. Algae blooms pose a risk to wildlife and people exposed to them.

Eunice said he’s contacted Levy County Commissioner John Meeks and Gov. DeSantis to help solve the flooding issue, but to no avail. He is not worried only about his property, but the livelihood of his neighbors.

Levy County Commissioner John Meeks and Inglis Mayor Michael Andrew White did not respond to requests for interviews.

A request for an interview with Gov. DeSantis also received no response by the time of publication.

Eunice’s neighborhood is mostly low-income. Some residents have gone without adequate power, plumbing and water due to the flooding, Eunice said.

“It sucks because it’s poor people around here, and nobody has any money,” he said.

According to an NPR investigation in September, foreclosed homes sold by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are disproportionately located in flood-prone places, including Eunice’s street.

U.S. HUD Jacksonville Field Office Director Dr. Alesia Scott-Ford did not respond to interview questions by the time of publication. 

Eunice has owned his property in Graceland Shores for about 36 years. He said the flooding happens every 3-5 years, but the cycle seems to be getting shorter. This year the flooding has been the worst he has ever seen, he said.

“I’m from here and I want to help,” Eunice said, “I want to make this neighborhood something more than what it’s going, the direction it’s going.”

About Julian Rush

Julian is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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