Once a thriving water body, attracting thousands of recreational boaters and anglers to the area, Lake Jesup has slowly degraded since the 1960s as Central Florida has grown up around it. Decades of wastewater effluent discharges directly into the lake, stormwater discharges from surrounding tributaries, the construction of berms that segregated the lake from parts of its floodplain, and a causeway that reduced the lake’s connection with the St. Johns River have all taken a significant toll on the sensitive ecosystem.
Events in the late 1980s highlighted the need to focus on growth’s negative impact on Lake Jesup. The planned construction of State Road 417 across the lake and its floodplain spurred the organization of the ‘Lake Jesup Restoration Task Force’ which hoped to deal with the impacts of that project and the many environmental needs of the lake. This task force struggled and ultimately disbanded in 1993, frustrated by the inability to synchronize the efforts of the many government agencies that would be needed to effectively address the problems of the lake. This frustration was shared by all of the citizens’ groups who had for so long tried to get something positive done for the lake.
These citizens continued to meet as the ‘Lake Jesup Restoration and Management Team’ and formulated solutions to the deadlock. In 1994, at their recommendation, the Florida Legislature approved a statute requiring several state agencies and citizens’ groups to participate in the lake restoration plan and to implement the recommendations. Comprised representatives from the St. Johns River Water Management District, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Department of Transportation, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Seminole County, the cities of Oviedo, Winter Springs, and Sanford, the Sierra Club, the Tuskawilla Homeowners Association, the Black Hammock Association and Protect Our Water, the group became the ‘Friends of Lake Jesup’. Meeting monthly during the four years from July 1994 to July 1998, the group developed a strategy, initiated the scientific study required, and secured some of the funding necessary to carry out the research and planning stages. In July 1998, the original citizens’ group chose not to reauthorize the legislative mandate, with the hope of continued participation in the restoration effort by the state agencies and local governments involved. That has been the case for the past 9 years, as the group has made a significant forward motion toward its goal:
To manage this resource so that the citizens of Florida may have Lake Jesup for the purposes of conservation and recreational use for generations to come.
The following is a list of accomplishments:
Identified and prioritized the goals and objectives of the restoration project.
- Identified the responsibilities and secured the commitment of each agency with regard to the project. The formal ‘Interagency plan‘ is being drafted right now. This cooperative effort has helped reprioritize the tasks, thereby coordinating the approach to funding and permitting the holistic effort.
- Secured participation and cooperation of the US Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard. Friends are currently promoting the hydraulic and navigational reconnection of the St. Johns River to Lake Jesup through an 1135 Environmental Restoration project. That project is in the planning stage right now.
- Secured the funding and helped develop a design for the State Road 46 bridge Replacement. It is being constructed by the Florida Department of Transportation District 5, beginning this year, to be completed in 2010. This project is instrumental in restoring the river connection to the lake.
- Identified pollution sources in the TMDL process, and through the BMAP process initiated pollution reduction measures. This has been jointly coordinated by Seminole County, the St. Johns River Water Management District, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
- Continually encouraged the preservation of a functioning ecosystem surrounding Lake Jesup, through a variety of measures including growth management and ‘In basin’ mitigation.
The Friends of Lake Jesup meet monthly on the third Thursday, at the Orlando Hood Cleaning Service. Meeting will begin at 7:00 p.m.
The public is always invited to attend.