Lake Panasoffkee’s habitats thriving

Posted: Tuesday, June 24, 2014 8:00 am

The Villages® Daily Sun

LAKE PANASOFFKEE, FL — Sunlight illuminated the dock of a fish camp as boats skimmed across the lake in search of fish.

Nearby, ibis flew over the water in search of their own catches.

The waters of Lake Panasoffkee now are at their clearest levels this year. An above-average 32 percent of sunlight reached the lake’s bottom according to a report issued by the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

It is a stark contrast to the first time Villager Doug Tharp visited the lake more than a decade ago, when muck covered the lake bottom.

A 10-year, $28 million restoration project that included the dredging of about 8.3 million cubic yards of natural sediment has led to improvements to the lake’s fish bedding areas and shoreline, the water district stated in published information.

Tharp, of the Village of Polo Ridge, said the difference between the lake before and after restoration is like night and day.

“You see a lot more traffic on Lake Panasoffkee (today),” the former member of the water district’s governing board said. “The general area has seen a vast improvement. You see some rejuvenation of the fish camps. They had a couple of fishing tournaments — there’s still a big bass out there that has not been caught yet that’s worth $10,000.”

Water district officials also have noticed a significant difference since the dredging concluded in November 2008, said Philip Rhinesmith, a senior environmental scientist for the district.

For example, submerged aquatic plants such as eelgrass now fill the lake bottom, which once was overwhelmed with sediment that had accumulated since the 1940s, he said.

“The water is deeper now, (and) water quality is better,” Rhinesmith said. “Plants have a positive effect on water quality, because they take in nitrates and phosphorous from the lake that would otherwise be taken in by algae. If we didn’t have them in there, we’d have algae in there; it wouldn’t be good for water quality.”

The pH level in the lake and the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water have shown improvement since the dredging was completed, which bolstered fish and plant populations and limited the occurrence of fish kills and algae blooms, Rhinesmith said.

“If the water quality started to degrade, there would be a negative response from organisms that live inside the lake,” he said.

While district officials continue to monitor the lake’s improving health, they also took action this week to improve recreational boating activities.
In conjunction with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, the water district treated a 4-mile boat access trail on the western shoreline with herbicides to remove nuisance vegetation that impeded boaters.

“We are treating the boat trail so people can start using it,” said Brian Nelson, the water district’s vegetation manager.
The district’s active management approach helps make it possible for the lake to continue providing recreational boating and fishing opportunities for residents, Rhinesmith said.

That’s why Villagers and area residents come to Lake Panasoffkee, he said.

“Historically, it’s been the lake that many people come to,” he said.

Tharp said the water clarity and the revived fish and aquatic plant habitats in the lake impress him.

“The dredging of the lake is without question the most stunning thing that happened,” he said. “It took a huge amount of cooperation from the state and local folks. Nothing matches what was done in the restoration of the lake. Millions of cubic yards of material were taken out of the lake. It was restored to what it was like 50 years ago.”

Michael Salerno is a staff writer with The Villages Daily Sun. He can be reached at 753-1119, ext. 9087, or

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