Construction began this fall on projects at Lake Hancock that will result in improved flows and better water quality in the upper Peace River.
Contractors began work Nov. 14 on the Lake Hancock Lake Level Modification Project, which will replace the P-11 Water Conservation Structure that was built in 1963. The new structure will allow the District to maintain higher lake levels, increasing the elevation from 98.7 feet above sea level to 100 feet. The additional stored water will be released into the upper Peace River during dry periods to help achieve minimum flow requirements for the upper river from Bartow to Zolfo Springs.
Located in Bartow on Saddle Creek, the current structure’s gates are manually operated. The new structure will include instrumentation that will allow it to be remotely operated. Construction is expected to be complete in about 18 months.
Work also began Sept. 26 on the Lake Hancock Outfall Treatment Project. The project involves constructing a 1,000-acre treatment wetland to improve water quality leaving the lake. Discharge from the lake has been documented as a major source of poor water quality in the upper Peace River. This poor water quality from the lake affects the entire river all the way to Charlotte Harbor, an “estuary of national significance” and a state Surface Water Improvement and Management (SWIM) priority water body. Construction for the treatment project is expected to take about 20 months.
The wetland treatment system will be built on part of the parcel of land formerly known as Old Florida Plantation. The District purchased the 3,500-acre parcel, which was planned for development, knowing it may serve as the site for the water quality improvement project. Water will flow through large areas of wetland vegetation where nutrients and other pollutants will be removed from the water before it enters the river.
The Lake Hancock projects are a critical part of the District’s recovery strategy for meeting the minimum flows in the upper Peace River, improving water quality in the Peace River and protecting Charlotte Harbor.
The recovery strategy was developed to address problems with low flows in the upper Peace River. The District developed minimum flows and levels (MFLs) for the upper Peace River in 2002. 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 does not often achieve its minimum flow.
The projects date back to 2003, when the District began evaluating the feasibility of raising the lake level. In 2004, the District’s Governing Board authorized staff to proceed with the preliminary design and engineering to prepare a conceptual environmental resource permit application for the lake level modification project. The District began acquiring property around the lake to support the project and has 8,337 acres acquired or under contract.