Understanding the Lake Hancock Projects
Local government representatives and members of the District’s Governing Board and Alafia River, Hillsborough River, Manasota and Peace River basin boards recently braved the elements to tour the Lake Hancock project area.
Several local officials, including Polk County Commissioners and a representative from Rep. Dennis Ross’ office, also attended the tour, which allowed participants the chance to gain a better understanding of the Lake Hancock projects. Participants climbed aboard two buses at the District’s Bartow Service Office. The outing included a stop at Circle B Bar Reserve, which is jointly owned by Polk County and the District; an airboat tour of the lake; and a visit to the Polk County landfill. Speakers were available to explain how these sites relate to the projects.
“I felt fine once the first layer of skin peeled off,” said Mac Carraway, Manasota Basin Board member, upon returning from the airboat tour that blustery February morning. “Even so, it was certainly time well spent in seeing the scope and complexity of this project.”
The Lake Hancock projects are a series of water resource development projects and are a major element of the District’s recovery strategy for the upper Peace River. Lake Hancock is a 4,500-acre lake in the headwaters of the Peace River watershed that extends 120 miles downriver to Charlotte Harbor, an estuary of national significance.
As part of the recovery strategy, the District developed minimum flows and levels (MFL) for the upper Peace River. An MFL is the limit where reduced flows or further withdrawals will cause significant harm to the water resources of the area and the related natural environment. Currently, the upper Peace River from Bartow to Zolfo Springs is often not achieving the proposed minimum flows, but the District’s upper Peace River recovery strategy will restore minimum flows.
The Lake Hancock projects include the Lake Hancock Lake Level Modification Project and the Lake Hancock Outfall Treatment Project. The goal of the Lake Level Modification Project is to store water by raising the control elevation of the existing outflow structure on Lake Hancock and to slowly release the water during the dry season to help meet the minimum flow requirements in the upper Peace River. The goal of the Outfall Treatment Project is to treat water discharging from Lake Hancock which will improve water quality in the Peace River and protect Charlotte Harbor.
During a presentation at the Circle B Bar Reserve, Mark Hammond, District resource management department director, explained how the lake, which is currently 98.5 feet above sea level, was historically two feet higher and how the District determined the potential benefits and impacts of raising the lake up to 100 feet above sea level.
“The District decided not to pursue raising the lake higher than 100 feet above sea level because the potential benefits did not justify the potential impacts, especially considering the landfill and city cemetery,” said Hammond.
Jeff Spence, Polk County Natural Resources Director, explained why the lake is so important to Polk County’s environment.
“While Lake Hancock is a shallow lake — the deepest part is only six feet deep — it is a very productive lake and a birder’s paradise,” said Spence. “More than 200 species of birds have been identified out here.”
Participants said the tour and presentations helped them visualize what is being proposed relative to the two projects.
The Lake Hancock projects are expected to be completed in 2010. For more information about the projects, visit the District’s web site at WaterMatters.org.