SEBRING — Clell Ford already knows three reasons why Lake Jackson dropped six feet in 2008.
About 650,000 gallons of water per day seeps from the sand around Sebring’s principal lake.
“That happens to every lake in Highlands County,” Ford said.
Also, 2007-12 were drought years. In 2007 alone, 14 fewer inches of rain fell than the average.
However the dramatic 2007 drop was “disproportionate to drought cycles,” Ford said.
A million gallons of water evaporate every day, the lake manager told the Highlands County commissioners on Tuesday.
“That makes sense,” Commissioner Jim Brook said, “a lake that shallow with that much surface area.”
On Tuesday, Ford proposed a $420,000 study, funded by $105,000 from local sources and $315,000 from Southwest Florida Water Management District.
“Do we have the water management district’s funding commitment?” Commissioner Don Elwell asked.
Yes, Ford replied.
“I had hoped to start in January,” Ford said Wednesday, “but as it stands now, it keeps going back and forth between the county and the water management district.”
The City of Sebring agreed to fund up to $52,500 for the local match, and the four commissioners approved the same amount. Ron Handley was absent.
“We don’t know where the seepage is,” Ford said. “Actually, we don’t have a good water budget for the lake, and if we are going to do any future work on the lake, we need to have some information. We have to collect more information if are finally going to resolve the issue.”
“We’re going to spend $420,000 in taxpayer money, and I think what we’re going to find out is that the lake dries up during a drought,” audience member Bill Youngman disagreed.
“We had a meeting to discuss this in September 2012, and since that time the lake has gone up,” Ford smiled. The drought broke in May 2013, and with about 53 inches of rain, the lake refilled.
“We’re up now at 102.6 feet, one of the highest levels,” Ford said. “It’s at the 98th percentile.”
“Why don’t we just have more meetings?” Chairman Greg Harris suggested with a smile. “That will be cheaper.”
In response to flooding in the 1950s, a canal was dug from Lake Jackson to Lake Josephine. It was around that time that complaints about low levels in Lake Jackson began, Ford said. About 1 cubic feet per second (650,000 gallons a day) seep “from lake to canal due to project,” Ford noted in a PowerPoint presentation. “Natural seepage, without the project, estimated to be 1.3 cubic feet per second).”
Six solutions were suggested, including more riprap in the canal, pumping the water back up the canal, and a $4.4 million dam. Ford said none sounded effective.
The proposed four-year study, Ford said, will identify physical causes of low-water conditions, develop a detailed water budget for Lake Jackson and Little Lake Jackson, and develop recovery strategies to restore normal water levels in Lake Jackson and Little Lake Jackson.
The 24-month study will include ground water monitoring, lake stage water monitoring, rainfall monitoring and analyze seepage. A final report will be issued in 2018.
“This study will finally at least answer the question as to what is causing all this,” Ford said. “We know that water is leaking out somewhere.”
“We have to do everything we can to protect all our lakes,” Commissioner Jack Richie said. “This is one small step.”