Representatives from the city councils of Clermont, Groveland, Montverde, Minneola, and Mascotte were present, as was Florida State Representative Larry Metz. None were there as speakers, however; they all apparently came to listen.
Sean Parks started off the meeting by mentioning Fred Sommer, who brought triathlon competitions to the area. According to Parks, Summers once said that "If you lose the lakes and water resources, you lose my business and other business, and you lose quality of life."
Michael Perry of the Lake County Water Authority, with 28 years of technical experience in water management, then spoke. Using various slides, charts, and pictures, he provided the historical and geographical background for our current situation.
He explained that the Clermont chain of lakes depends on water flowing into them from the Big Creek and Little Creek basins. These basins are relatively flat, so water flows from them slowly. This water is driven by rainfall and rain must fall on the basins to flow into the lakes.
This brought up the major issue in the area. "For the past seven years, we've been in a persistent drought," Perry explained.
"That is, the area has experienced below-average rainfall. Normally, we'd expect to receive 50.5 inches of rainfall in a year, with most of that falling in the summer."
"As of October, we were 10 inches short for the year. The past seven years of rain deficit, added together, comes to more than 62 inches."
At least two studies, one done by Devo Engineering in 2003, and one by AMEC in 2013 determined that at least 95 percent of the decline in lake levels is due to lack of rainfall.
It isn't due to withdrawals of water from the lakes due to usage for commercial irrigation or other purposes, and it isn't due to various structures made to change the flow of the lakes. On the other hand, residential irrigation can have some effect, which is why most of the area is currently under water restrictions as to lawn watering.
Tom Bertolo, assistant director of the Division of Regulatory, Engineering and Environmental Services, spoke next. He brought up the Central Florida Water Initiative, a collaborative effort to protect and preserve the area's water supply.
In an unprecedented move, three water management districts came together and decided to create one set of plans instead of three. The new plan covers 5,000 square miles and five counties.
The problem being faced by this area is that it currently encompasses 2.7 million people, and is projected to grow to 4.1 million people by 2035.
Is this a problem? Currently, our traditional water resources provide 800 million gallons of water a day, the experts claimed.
That has served our needs since 1995. However, with the projected population growth, we will need 1.1 billion gallons of water a day. That's an increase of 35 percent.
Modeling our current resources into the future, Bertolo explained that "850 million gallons a day is a sustainable level using traditional resources. It won't cause significant damage to the lakes. But we'll need to account for 250 million gallons a day of extra use."
That extra use, if drawn from our traditional resources, will injure at least six bodies of water, including Cherry Lake and Lake Louisa.
What can we do to avoid this harm? One thing the government can do is put tougher conditions in place for granting water permits it was suggested.
Another thing we can do is examine the feasibility of projects to make more efficient use of reclaimed water.
To that end, the Central Florida Water Initiative is working up a water supply draft plan. It will be available online at http://www.cfwiwater.com/. The public is encouraged to comment on the plan.
Also, there will be a three-hour workshop on this plan on December 12 from 4 to 7 at the Clermont Community Center, and the public is welcome to attend.
Alan Oyler, an engineer with decades of experience in wastewater and reclaimed water projects, spoke next on the topic of alternate water supply resources. These could include storm water, reclaimed water, brackish groundwater, lakes, rivers and the ocean.
South Lake's water problem, he explained, is twofold. First, we're located on a sand ridge, so water drains away quickly. Second, most of the usual alternate water supply options aren't feasible for this area, or at least aren't abundant.
This means that we will probably need to pipe in water from other water projects to supply our needs in the future. This can get quite expensive depending on how far away the project is located.
Oyler then mentioned five water projects that might suit our needs. At least one of them involves brackish water that would need to be treated before it could be used. The closest alternative is the Conserve II project, only one mile from Clermont. The furthest, the Taylor Creek project, is 50 miles away.
The problem is that we're competing with all of the other communities in Central Florida for these resources.
What we need, Oyler elaborated, is a high-powered water consultant to go over our list of options, try to come up with some we haven't thought of yet, perform modeling to evaluate impacts and benefits, and come up with a list of projects and prices so that we can move forward to plan for the future. None of the local communities have budgeted for this yet, but they have agreed to pool money for it, with Clermont taking the lead.
How long would this take? Oyler displayed a projected time line. The hope is to get signed agreements for pooling resources by May 2014, with requests for qualifications from consultants by October of the same year.
By December 2014, the selection process should be completed, with the consultant starting in January 2015. It is expected that the consultant will take six months to do the preliminary study.
Based on the plan the water consultant comes up with, the local area governments will develop cost sharing agreements and obtain funding for water projects.
These water projects will likely take three to five years to complete, from the start of the design through to finishing the actual work. Smaller projects, however, could be completed in 18 months. "This fits within the time frame we need," Oyler noted.
After the speakers finished their presentation, a number of concerned citizens came up to ask questions. Many expressed concern that they could someday be paying $11 to $12 per 1,000 gallons of water (as one of the slides in one of the presentations explained).
Others suggested that we need to have more regulation of the amount of water that can be drawn from the lakes. Still others expressed concern over certain commercial interests pumping water from the lakes or drawing from the Florida Aquifer.
In addition to the upcoming workshop on December 12, concerned citizens should consider attending an upcoming public workshop to be held by the Lake County Legislative Delegation on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 5pm.
It covers the same issues at the county level, and it will also examine the topics raised at the Clermont meeting. This workshop will be held in the Chambers of the Lake County Board of County Commissioners, located at 315 West Main Street, second floor, in Tavares.
For more information on this workshop,
contact Jennifer Wylie, District Aide to State Representative Larry Metz, at Jennifer.email@example.com or call 352-989-9134.