Nonprofit celebrates big step toward cleaner Orlando lakes
Approximately a hundred people gathered at Leu Gardens Friday to celebrate a big win in one local nonprofit’s push for cleaner Orlando area lakes.
Friends of Loch Haven Chain of Lakes, Inc. recently secured $1.3 million in state funding for the St. Johns River Water Management District to develop a master plan to improve flood control and water quality for five interconnected lakes: Lakes Formosa, Rowena, Winyah, Estelle and Sue.
That $1.3 million is the full amount requested by the nonprofit during Florida’s most recent legislative session, according to the group’s founder and president, Shan Atkins.
Atkins said the funding allocation couldn’t have come to fruition without the help of two state lawmakers: Republican Senator Jason Brodeur and Representative Anna Eskamani, a Democrat.
“We’re excited about the fact that two important figures from different ends of the political spectrum here in Florida were able to hold hands to get this done,” Atkins said. “It’s a model for how this should work, everywhere.”
Also present Friday were Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings; Orlando City Commissioner Robert Stuart (District 3) and Vice Mayor of Winter Park Sheila DeCiccio, as well as Michael Register, executive director for St Johns River Water Management District.
Atkins says she and other concerned residents launched their nonprofit in 2020, after a power failure at an Orlando lift station caused 350,000 gallons of sewage to spew into Lake Rowena.
“The first thing we did was work pretty intensively with OUC [the Orlando Utilities Commission] and the city to agree upon a set of physical changes to the infrastructure of the station, and the way the power feeds into the station, so that in future electrical storm events, like the one that caused it to go down, it would not fail,” Atkins said.
Now, thanks to the addition of four different power supply methods, that particular lift station almost certainly won’t fail again, according to civil engineer Alan Williams, who’s also part of the nonprofit.
But there’s still lots of work ahead to improve and protect water quality for the Loch Haven lake basin, and reduce its flooding vulnerability. The water management district’s master plan will be a critical part of that work.
Atkins said the project is especially complex because the five Loch Haven lakes span across three local government jurisdictions.
“To come up with a plan for this lake basin, as opposed to one lake or another, requires all three of those jurisdictions to work together collaboratively,” Atkins said. “That adds a lot of complexity.”
Representatives from Orange County, plus the cities of Winter Park and Orlando were present Friday, along with educational materials they brought for curious guests to explore: like specimens of native and invasive plant species.
Register said he estimates it will take between 10-14 months for the water management district to finish its master plan.