An edition of: WaterAtlas.orgPresented By: Orange County, USF Water Institute

Water-Related News

Aquatic plants are a sign that Lake Apopka is recovering after decades of pollution

ORANGE COUNTY – What was once considered Florida’s most polluted lake is making strides in its road to recovery. Agricultural discharge caused Lake Apopka to lose its submerged aquatic vegetation for more than 50 years, but thanks to efforts from the St. Johns River Water Management District, aquatic plants are growing once again. It’s a sign that water quality is improving and that restoration efforts are working.

Lake Apopka was once a main attraction in Central Florida.

“There were over 20 fish camps around the lake,” Jim Peterson with the St. Johns River Water Management District said. “They had lodging, they rented boats, they sold bait, they had entertainment. It was a place to come visit.”

In the early 20th century, Lake Apopka was considered the most reliable bass-fishing lake in the South — but by the 1940s, everything changed. Food shortage concerns during World War II caused 20,000 acres of the lake’s North Shore to be drained and used for agricultural production.

“That area became completely under cultivation,” Peterson said. “They did a great job of growing vegetables mostly and crops, but it added a lot of pollution to Lake Apopka.”

Drainage from the farms increased the lake’s phosphorus levels and led to a continuous algal bloom. Due to the algae, sunlight couldn’t reach the bottom of the lake, which caused native submerged aquatic vegetation to die off and the bass population to decline. At one point, Lake Apopka was considered Florida’s most polluted lake.