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West Orange Times & Observer Monday, Sep. 17, 2018 2 years ago

Heavy rain, rising lake levels threaten homes in Gotha

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Several homeowners in Gotha residing near lakes are contending with flood threats from the abnormally heavy rainfall received this year.
by: Gabby Baquero News Editor

Water levels in several Gotha-area lakes and wetlands have risen dangerously high due to heavy rainfall recently.

Some homeowners located near the lakes have watched with growing dread as the elevated lakes threaten to reach and flood their houses.

Rita Schoeffler, a seven-year Gotha resident, who resides near Lake Nally has monitored the progress of the lake and fears for her neighbor who is situated closest to the body of water that has now overtaken the neighbor’s dock and lies only a few feet from the property.

“It started happening a couple weeks ago,” Schoeffler said. “So much rain has been coming and we're at the bottom. And so all the lakes are filled way above normal and they all drain down to here, but Lake Nally doesn't drain into anywhere. So the water's coming down from everywhere, even from a neighborhood that's above us, it was coming in between the houses like a river. It was unbelievable.”

Because of the elevated water levels and reduced oxygen levels, the fish in the lake have also been dying, Schoeffler said.

During the Labor Day weekend, Orange County Government officials visited the area to scope out the situation, hand out sandbags to affected residents and relocate some of the water that had also collected in the wetlands south of Lake Nally to Lake Olivia and Steer Lake, said Daniel Negron, chief engineer of the county’s Stormwater Management Division.

“There's no outfall for the water there, so once it fills up, there’s nowhere else for it to go,” Negron said. “And looking at our rainfall information countywide, we are, currently, an average of 9.5 inches above normal. For example, (from January) up to August 31, the normal rainfall would be around 36.6 inches, but we've received 46.2 (inches). So it's been an extremely wet year.”

Schoeffler said she’s noticed Lake Nally is not the only lake in Gotha with elevated water levels.

“There are several homes at risk around all these little lakes, it isn't just us,” Schoeffler said. “On Gotha Road, by the turnpike, there are some other homes at risk and those people are a nervous wreck because it's right at their back door. So it's quite a few homes near lakes in Gotha. If you drive around, you'll see all these lakes with the water that has gone up very high."

While most lakes drain out to another lake or body of water, those that don’t become more vulnerable during periods of heavy rain, Negron said. Surveyors came out Sept. 5 and took readings that showed  Lake Nally was about two to three feet from reaching a home, he added.

“A lot of lakes are higher than normal, but perhaps they're not close enough to a home, so people don't get too worried about it,” Negron said. “But that whole area, and essentially countywide, we have some really high stages. South of Morton Jones Road there were two wetlands that were threatening two homes and that's where some pumps were set up. We haven't done anything for Lake Nally to my knowledge, but I believe it's considered a private lake.”

And when it comes to long-term solutions, the county has limited options, Negron added.

“We're kind of limited as to what we can do out there,” Negron said. “You can set up a pump station, but that's extremely expensive. It can be millions of dollars. And landlocked lakes are tricky – even if you pump the water from point A to point B, you don't want to just move the problem to someone else.”

Gabby is the news editor for the West Orange Times and Windermere Observer newspapers. Have a story tip? Contact her at (352) 448-5856 or at [email protected]....

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