August 15, 2007

Low water levels on Lake Panasoffkee have resulted in the growth of desirable native aquatic plants in more than 80% of the lake bottom according to state environmental scientists. The state agencies include the Southwest Florida Water Management District, Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The Lake Panasoffkee Restoration Council has been in the process of dredging approximately eight million cubic yards of sediment from the lake since July 2004 to improve fish habitats, restore the historic lake shoreline and improve navigation. The project is designed to reverse decades of sedimentation and shoreline vegetation encroachment.

Suspended material and color of the water combined with the water depth had inhibited the growth of submerged native aquatic plants. Until recently, regrowth of these plants on the lake bottom was occurring at a slower, inconsistent rate. Other areas were being invaded by hydrilla, which is a troublesome, fast-growing exotic aquatic plant. Lower water levels in the lake this spring and summer have allowed light penetration in deeper areas, resulting in the growth of native submerged aquatic plants.

Lake Panasoffkee historically supported sufficient amounts of native aquatic plants that help maintain water clarity and quality, as well as provide important fish and wildlife habitat. However, like plants growing on land, aquatic plants need adequate sunlight to grow. The amount of light reaching submerged aquatic plants can be reduced by poor water clarity and increased water depth.

The permanent loss of submerged native aquatic plants would result in increased levels of algae, which can cause reduced water clarity, loss of important fish and wildlife habitat, and increase the potential for fish kills.

In the future, to promote and preserve submerged native aquatic plants, the District will, at times, maintain lower water levels in Lake Panasoffkee by operating the Wysong-Coogler Water Conservation Structure (WCS). Additionally, the District may need to re-evaluate the current operational guidelines for the Wysong-Coogler WCS to allow the lake to reach lower levels on a regular basis.

In addition to environmental factors, recovery of submerged native aquatic plant populations is important for meeting the requirements of the FDEP permit, which will allow the dredging project to be completed.

Dredging is expected to continue through June 2008.

Lake Panasoffkee is designated as an Outstanding Florida Water by the FDEP, and is one of the District’s Surface Water Improvement and Management (SWIM) priority water bodies. Lake Panasoffkee is the third largest lake in west-central Florida and is a nationally acclaimed fishery.

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