Not long ago, South Orlando was a collection of farms and ranchlands dotted with pristine lakes. Back then, Orlando to the southern end of Florida was the single drainage unit. When rainfall exceeded capacity of Lake Okeechobee and Kissimmee River floodplain, water emptied in Florida Bay. Before exploding development in Central Florida, the Everglades reached to the southern portion of Lake Okeechobee flowing into the Gulf of Mexico.
Fast forward to today; on any given Sunday, families flock to Lakes Whippoorwill and Mary Jane enjoying outdoor activities from camping on its shores to fishing, waterskiing and swimming. Lake Nona, still, typically enjoys good water quality. How can waters remain protected in the wake of extreme development? It starts with infrastructure.
Infrastructure is essential for enabling Orlando’s productivity and, although a highly expensive proposition, results of economies of scale are visible in commercial development. Infrastructure is a collection of basic physical systems supporting our population and includes roads, utilities, water and sewage. “People have to understand that storm water management is a large infrastructure; a highly involved treatment system serving a dedicated purpose and has evolved to a high tech and scientific field,” says John Evertson, surface water manager for the city of Orlando.
Throughout developed areas – not designed for recreational use – are a series of retention ponds, used to hold water indefinitely, and detention ponds, low lying areas designed for short-term water holding as it slowly drains into another body of water. Jim Luebbering, Orlando’s stormwater assistant division manager explained, “These ponds help mimic pre-developed sites, holding runoff.” With the first inch of runoff from surfaces such as roofs and hard surfaces being the most polluted, these strategically placed ponds are designed to act as filters before water drains into lakes and other waterways.
“As systems get older, stormwater systems need maintenance and inspection,” says Evertson. “Once the systems are buried, they are out of sight and mind.” Older construction may have corrugated metal pipe systems that may have rusted over time causing inefficiency. Given soil conditions, the average life of these systems is about seven to 10 years. Although a good product under many circumstances, more durable products are concrete, that can last fifty or more years, and high density PVC that may have a lifespan of 30 years or more.
Along with assuring stormwater systems are up to date, we should all have an awareness of what’s going down the drain. A way to protect natural waterways is to be mindful of anything on the pavement – fertilizers, pesticides, dog waste – as these are first to get washed away. When purchasing fertilizer, be aware that the city does have a phosphorus content ordinance. The content should be 0 and is located on the product label’s center number. Washing paint brushes on hard surfaces causes their chemical content to be washed away in the first flush of high pollutants. Grease in commercials drains should also be avoided.
Orlando has learned to mitigate impact of development very quickly. When building begins, it’s key to immediately install silt fences to begin protecting the environment; avoiding discharges into lakes from the earliest stage of the development process. Stormwater Management’s job is to get out and begin regulating projects immediately.
“As part of the Clean Water act, the only thing we really want to go down the drain is rainwater,” says Kathryn Kalbaba, stormwater management’s public awareness specialist. Residents and business owners are encouraged to be “Lake Heroes” and report violation such as fertilizer/pesticide overuse and erosion to the hotline at 407.246.2370.
With the proper planning, maintenance and education, officials and residents alike can look forward to cleaner, safer lakes for some time to come.
Article by Monica King