WHAT HAPPENED TO OUR LAKES?
The community of Keystone Heights (K.H.), known as the “Lake Region” was literally founded in the 1920s by people from Pennsylvania and other northern states seeking a beautiful place to vacation or call home. The area offered a mild climate and beautiful lakes for fishing, boating, swimming and family gatherings. Homes were built around the area lakes and a business community began to develop. The Etonia Chain of Lakes (Blue Pond, Lake Magnolia, Lake Brooklyn, Little Lake Keystone, Lake Geneva, Old Field Pond and Half Moon Lake), connected by Alligator Creek, was a significant part of the thriving K.H. Lake Region community.
In the mid-1970s the lakes began to decline. Even though lakes would have some recovery during rainy periods, area lake levels were no longer stable, and a steady overall decline began. A particularly heavy rainy season in the early 1970s caused road closures and flooding of many homes in the area. The governor took action to “help” the flooding situation…an earthen dam was quickly constructed at the outflow of Lake Magnolia to stop the flooding conditions. The thought for many years…” it’s all about rain”…NOT TRUE! This belief continued through the 1980s. It has taken many years of research and scientific study to finally prove that theory wrong.
In the 1990s, the Lake Brooklyn Civic Association (LBCA) began seeking answers. They were the leaders in getting the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) and Clay County interested in finding the answers. In 1994-97 a complete survey of Alligator Creek was completed by Clay County. They discovered the earthen dam that was constructed in the 1970s and other areas affecting the Creek bed and impeding the flow between the lakes. Permits were issued, and Clay County (with the help of Camp Blanding) began clearing Alligator Creek of the obstructions impeding the flow. Big cheers went up in the Keystone community when the water began rushing into Lake Brooklyn…after years of devastated lakes. The lake levels were up in 1998 after a wetter than usual rainy season but receded when the next dry period hit. This seemed to prove the “it’s all about rain” explanation…BUT STILL NOT TRUE!
In the 2000s, a lot of frustration and misinformation was the tone, and still no real answer to the problems. The citizens of Keystone were close to giving up, but not totally. “It’s all about rain” did not make sense to those who had lived on the lakes for decades…something else had to be the problem. They looked to the sand mines and the military installation in the area to place blame. Blaming wasn’t the answer either! The Save Our Lakes Organization was formed, and the citizens kept digging for the answer(s).
In the 2010s, while more frustration over Minimum Flows and Levels or MFLs (read more about MFLs on our Fact Sheet) and other issues continued, the science was beginning to shed light on WHY lake levels were not rebounding. The not so simple answer: Yes, rainfall matters, but that’s not the total picture. The total picture is more complicated.
• The Floridan Aquifer provides water from Georgia down into Central Florida. This Aquifer is recharged by rainfall and is depleted by pumping.
• Pumping is normal…it brings the Aquifer’s water to utilities (for public use), to industry, agriculture and to small wells for private use. No matter how useful and important the pumping, without sufficient rainfall, it still depletes the Floridan Aquifer…no way around that fact.
• Rainfall cannot be controlled.
• Recharge – what we now know is that the Floridan Aquifer is recharged by rainfall. While that recharge occurs in several areas, there are TWO MAJOR RECHARGE areas for the Floridan Aquifer. One is in Valdosta, Georgia…the other is in the Keystone Heights Lake Region…LAKES BROOKLYN and GENEVA!
WHY? … The complicated answer:
• Florida’s population has exploded since the 1970s, requiring more water for public, industrial, agricultural and private use.
• Consumptive Use Permits (CUPs) were issued to meet the demand for more water.
• Rainfall could not keep up with the recharge needed for the growth and demands for water in Northeast Florida. The major Aquifer recharge areas, Lakes Brooklyn and Geneva, began to decline…reflecting the true condition of the Floridan Aquifer.
SO WHAT NOW?... Science and Water Management:
• MFLs for Lake Brooklyn and Lake Geneva became the focus of SJRWMD, SOLO and the Utilities (the largest CUP holders). Was pumping contributing to harmful lake levels? Were specific project(s) needed to bring these lake levels back to healthy standards. Those holding CUPs affecting those lakes must participate in the recovery effort, through projects or funding of projects. A debate that began in 2010 and continued for many years.
• WATER SUPPLY PLAN – A “Water Supply Plan” (unanimously approved by both St. Johns and Suwannee Water Management Districts in 2015) was developed to determine both the demand and the shortfall as well as the recharge projects needed to provide for the future growth of Northeast Florida. The Plan focuses on ways to conserve, reuse, store or redirect excess water. All types of projects will be needed to meet
regional water demands.
2017-18 – Black Creek Water Resource Development Project
• Using only the excess water flowing into Black Creek (located in Middleburg, Florida) as an Aquifer recharge project has been a consideration for some time. Engineering and hydro-geologic studies have been done by the SJRWMD to determine the feasibility (benefits/impact) of such a project. Study results indicate the Black Creek Project is winwin for managing Florida’s water:
o Floridan Aquifer Recharge – A win for all of Northeast Florida and beyond.
o Keystone Heights Lake Recovery/Community Recovery – a win for Keystone Heights, Clay County and Northeast Florida.
State Senator Rob Bradley led the Legislative effort to bring this forward-thinking SJRWMD Project to a reality. With the hard work of Senator Bradley, the SJRWMD staff and Governing Board and the Save Our Lakes Organization, permitting is in its final stages (August 2021) and construction is expected to start in early 2022. (Read more about the Black Creek Project on our website and the SJRWMD website).
As with many issues that face us in today’s world, the longer we put off managing our increasing water demand and supply issues, the harder the choices will be. As the Black Creek Project, and other projects like it, lead to more efficient management of Florida’s precious water resources, Florida and its citizens are the winners.
Thank you for your interest.
Vivian Katz-James, President
Save Our Lakes Organization, Inc.
P. O. Box 185
Keystone Heights, FL 32656