Can growing hay on dredged muck ease Lake Apopka pollution?
By Kevin Spear, Orlando Sentinel
9:39 p.m. EDT, June 10, 2013
For much of the 1900s, waste generated by farmers, citrus processors and sewage plants spoiled Lake Apopka, once a famed fishing hole. And for the past 30 years, authorities have been befuddled by what to do about the mess.
At a cost of nearly $200 million, state agencies in the 1990s bought up nearly 20,000 acres of farmland beside the 50-square-mile lake and re-engineered the landscape to minimize further draining of pollution from the fields to the lake. That moderately improved the water.
But hopes for a quick cure continue to influence debates about how to restore the lake, which straddles Orange and Lake counties. Of the unlikely approaches already tried, some have actually helped. For example, the aggressive removal of a trash fish called gizzard shad has had limited success in removing phosphorus pollution from the lake — because each fish stores a tiny bit of the pollutant inside it.
So the St. Johns River Water Management District plans to talk about the hay-growing proposal Tuesday as a potentially low-risk but high-gain option, said Robert Christianson, the agency's director of land management.
The project may reveal much about the nature of the sloppy muck and may remove a significant amount of pollution from the lake — with no financial risk to taxpayers, Christianson said. "We think that it's worthy of continuing to think about," he said.