SOUTH LAKE COUNTY – Lake Louisa State Park is a popular spot in South Lake County, and that’s partly because it hosts a beautiful natural environment that includes six lakes set amidst rolling hills and a very scenic landscape.
In fact, Lake Louisa is the largest in a chain of 13 lakes connected by the Palatlakaha River, which is designated as an Outstanding Florida Waterway.
Mary Hamilton is well aware that those lakes – and the county’s natural beauty – are what draw people here.
“People like the natural resources here,” Hamilton said. “That’s why we come here.”
What people may not realize, she added, is how easy it can be to pollute those lakes and rivers, even unintentionally, or how very costly it is to trace the pollutants that seep into these bodies of water and then clean them up.
But when the message does get out, Hamilton said, people are usually quite willing to learn more and do what they can to help protect their local environment.
“People are very receptive to the message,” Hamilton said. “The more markers we put out, people will ask about them and want to learn more.”
Hamilton is the manager of the Stormwater Section of the Lake County Department of Public Works, Engineering Division. This weekend, the agency will sent 27 Boy Scouts from Troop 14 out into the South Lake County subdivisions of Orange Tree, Lake Louisa Highlands, White Marsh, Tradds Landing, Sunburst Estates and Overlook at Lake Louisa to install storm drain markers. The message on each marker will be, “Only Rain Down the Storm Drain.”
The Boy Scouts will be out on Saturday, April 9, from 8 a.m. to noon.
The project is designed to raise awareness about stormwater, as the Public Works Department’s Stormwater Section makes an ongoing effort to mark all storm drains in unincorporated Lake County with the educational signage. This is the third year the troop has participated in the public awareness campaign. The Boy Scouts will be accompanied by Scout Master Pastor Doug Lane and Assistant Scout Master Paul Doran, who is an inspector for the Lake County Stormwater Section.
South Lake County was one of the fastest growing parts of Lake County in the past decade, and Clermont recently surpassed Leesburg as the largest city in the county. That growth brought new residential subdivisions and commercial strip malls to U.S. 27 between Clermont and the Polk County line around the Four Corners area. But that growth has also made it more difficult to fully patrol the waste that gets mixed in with stormwater, Hamilton said.
“The county has an illicit discharge ordinance, which basically regulates what people can dump down the storm drains,” she said. “As people are blowing grass clippings or cleaning their car, it gets into their drains, and then that gets into our lakes and rivers.”
To prevent that, the Stormwater Section has been setting the markers at all of Lake Couunty’s storm drains, to let people know what should not be mixed in there.
“We mark our drains,” she said, adding that in addition to installing the storm drain markers, Boy Scouts will be distributing educational door hangers to residents in those communities.
This educational campaign helps Lake County comply with its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Funding for the storm drain markers is being provided by the Lake County Water Authority’s “Drop-by-Drop: You Make A Difference!” community mini-grant.
Once the rivers get polluted from waste that gets into the storm drains, Hamilton said, fixing the problem is time-consuming and costly.
“You have to trace back and verify where the pollutant came from,” she said. “It’s a huge expense if it’s a fuel product or a dry cleaning product or nutrients or algae blooms. It goes directly into the very places where people want to fish and boat and recreate. It’s a costly issue and also a quality of life issue for people.”
Lake Louisa, Dixie Lake, and Hammond Lake, three of the state park’s most accessible lakes, provide access for fishing, canoeing, and kayaking. Anglers also have the opportunity to fish in four of the park’s six lakes. Dixie Lake has a fishing pier, canoe/kayak launch, and a picnic pavilion.
Hamilton said when residents understand that simple steps can help preserve these lakes, they’re very responsive to the message.
“This is the third year we’ve been doing the storm drain education campaign,” she said. “People like it and it gives them information they can use, and they have information to help pass on to others as well. They seem very involved and supportive.”
For more information about stormwater education or Saturday’s event, call the Lake County Stormwater Section at 352-483-9080.
Contact us at FreelineOrlando@gmail.com.