The water quality of the 19-acre Lake Prima Vista in Ocoee, formerly known as Deep Lake, has taken a dive for the worse in recent years.
“When we first moved here, you could see the lake’s sandy bottom,” said Ann Whittle, a resident who's lived near the lake for 30 years. “It was clear, and you could see your feet. But over the years, it’s just become this yucky muck. It’s just in a bad shape, and it’s gotten worse since about 2010 and 2011. That’s when we started to notice a lot more algae, and the water was becoming greener.”
Steve Krug, director of Ocoee’s Public Works department, said the city has been monitoring the lake and also noticed something was wrong.
“When you can’t see very far into the water, it’s a good indication that something is going wrong — that something’s off balance,” Krug said. “And what we’re finding is, there may not be an algal bloom, but there’s a lot of plant life that might not have been there before. And some of our tests have shown that there are a lot of nutrients coming into the lake. And everything has to be in balance. It’s like a swimming pool — if you don’t put enough of certain chemicals in a pool, it turns green, and if you have too many chemicals, it will affect your skin. So it’s pretty similar to a lake — the chemical makeup needs to allow healthy plant life but also support the fish.”
Test results have confirmed there are a lot of nutrients that support plant life coming into the lake, which tends to adversely impact the water quality, Krug said.
"I don’t know why it would. I can’t think of why it would. We don’t spray anything that you can’t eat. We don’t spray anything that would hurt humans or wildlife." – Scott West
Tom West Blueberries, a 10-acre farm located nearby on East Orlando Avenue, is suspected to be a contributing source of the lake’s increased nutrient intake, he said.
“It just seems that, now, there’s a bit more coming in from an agricultural source — the blueberry farm,” he said. “However, they’re doing everything they need to. We met with them, and they’re using organic fertilizer. They’re not doing anything that would harm the lake intentionally – it's just the way Florida is in that particular area. Everything's going down into the water table and it just migrates into the lake, and you've also got a lot of neighborhoods surrounding it, and it can also be caused by fertilizer, so the city is looking into bringing in a fertilizing ordinance.”
The family-owned blueberry farm, which opened in 2010, is not an organic farm, said Scott West, who co-owns the farm with his father, Milton West. And Scott said he has trouble believing the farm’s activities or proximity to the lake are contributing to the degradation of the lake’s water quality.
“I don’t know why it would,” Scott said. “I can’t think of why it would. We don’t spray anything that you can’t eat. We don’t spray anything that would hurt humans or wildlife. … We’re not an organic farm, but if something was going into the lake, it wouldn’t matter whether it was organic or not — it would still have the same NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium) as anything else.”
Scott added the farm also installed berms to avoid the water from reaching the lake.
“We have berms and some things set up so that the water doesn't go back into the lake,” he said. “I mean, truthfully, the water comes that out of the lake gets filtered through the aquifer. Any water that goes out of the lake and into the farm and any water that goes out onto the farm is filtered through silt sand and all the things that rainwater is filtered through before it gets into the aquifer. I mean, I'm not a scientist who does those types of studies and all that stuff, but I imagine there's a lot of water that comes off the roads and into the lake and I don't know what's on the roads.”
The city of Ocoee is working with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to devise a long-term plan to help the lake and see if there are any state grants to help fund the clean-up initiative, Krug shared.
“We can’t just go to the blueberry farm, and say, ‘Hey, you’re doing everything right, but we need you to spend all this money to fix this or put something in’ — especially when it would only benefit the city for them to do this,” Krug said.
Krug estimates it could take up to a year to finalize a treatment plan and procure funding. He added the treatment plan may take up to five years because there is no quick fix.