Lake Panasoffkee responds to restoration with improved clarity, aquatic plant coverage

News Release

"Lake Panasoffkee(Lake Panasoffkee: SWIM Program Priority Water Body)": water is clearer, eelgrass is thicker and fisheries are richer in response to the recent restoration project and effective management of lake levels, according to "Southwest Florida Water Management District(Southwest Florida Water Management District)":/ and "Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission(Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)": officials.

The lake continues to respond well following the dredging restoration project, which was completed in November 2008. The 10-year, $26.9 million project restored Lake Panasoffkee's historic fish bedding areas and shoreline by removing approximately 8.3 million cubic yards of sediment from more than 1,744 acres of lake area. The project also improved navigation of the third largest lake in west-central Florida.

"Currently conditions are excellent," said Philip Rhinesmith, District senior environmental scientist. "There are desirable species of submerged aquatic plants covering nearly 80 percent of the lake bottom. With a high percentage of the lake colonized by desirable submerged aquatic plants, duck hunters are anticipating an excellent year."

Eelgrass and other desirable plants covered only half of the lake bottom before the restoration project began. Rhinesmith said that water chemistry and clarity are excellent and fish camps and anglers are reporting good catches of largemouth bass, redear sunfish and bluegill.

Marty Hale, regional fisheries administrator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Northeast Region, agreed that fishing is improving on the lake.

"The presence of submersed aquatic vegetation is critically important for the growth and development of vibrant fish populations," said Hale. "Sampling conducted near the end of lake restoration and following restoration resulted in higher catch rates of largemouth bass than ever recorded."

Hale said that the catch rates for bluegill were also excellent, and that surveys of anglers have verified the results.

"Having the ability to regulate water levels to adapt to current conditions is critically important to maintain the impressive benefits of the restoration efforts," said Hale. "Over 28 million dollars were spent to improve water quality, aquatic vegetation and fish populations in Lake Panasoffkee, and the health of these resources should be the top priority when making decisions regarding the amount of water leaving the lake."

The District allowed lake levels to fall naturally in March by deflating the Wysong-Coogler Water Conservation Structure on the Withlacoochee River. Lower water levels allow more sunlight to reach eelgrass, the dominant submerged plant in Lake Panasoffkee. At the start of the rainy season in July, the District inflated the dam to raise water levels. The Wysong-Coogler structure controls the natural flow of water from the lake through the Outlet River. It was built in 2002 to help conserve water in Lake Panasoffkee, the Withlacoochee River and Tsala Apopka Lake during the dry season. The Wysong-Coogler structure replaced the original Wysong structure that was operational between 1965 and 1988.

"Allowing water to flow from the lake through the Outlet River allows for water circulation and helps discharge nutrients from the lake," said Rhinesmith. "This natural discharge process is important, as is allowing the lake level to fluctuate naturally through the dry season and the rainy season."

Lake Panasoffkee is designated as an Outstanding Florida Water by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, is one of the District's Surface Water Improvement and Management (SWIM) priority water bodies and is a nationally acclaimed fishery.

Since the 1940s, 900 acres of open-water habitat had been lost due to the accumulation of natural sediments over the hard lake bottom. The additional sediment caused large portions of the lake to become shallow enough for emergent vegetation to take hold. The buildup of sediment adversely impacted the historic fish spawning areas and limited navigation around the lake.

A four-step restoration plan, developed by the Lake Panasoffkee Restoration Council and managed by the District, began in Sept. 2000. The restoration project was funded by multiple partners, including the state of Florida, the "U.S. Environmental Protection Agency(EPA)":, the District's "Withlacoochee River Basin Board(Withlacoochee River Basin Board)":/about/basinboards/withlacoochee.php and "SWIM Program(SWIM Program)":/projects/swim/, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the "Florida Department of Transportation(FDOT)": and "Sumter County(Sumter County Government)":