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Low water levels, sand bars cause issues on Lake Toho

Posted on Wednesday, May 16, 2018 at 9:03 am

By Rachel Christian
Staff Writer
Lack of rain in March and April sent water levels in Central Florida plummeting.
Downpours were in the forecast this week , but last week, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) announced plans to stop navigation out of the Lake Tohopekaliga lock

A couple of anglers fish on Lake Tohopekaliga in Kissimmee.

because levels are so low.
According to a May 9 SFWMD news release, the Southport lock on the south shores of Lake Toho would close once downstream water levels fell to 48.5 feet above mean sea level.
The release also stated that SFWMD water managers would work to lessen the decline in Lake Kissimmee while maintaining enough flow to the Kissimmee River to protect fish and aquatic organisms.
“However,” the release stated, “reductions in flow from Lake Kissimmee will also result in declining water levels in the Kissimmee River.”
SFWMD advised boaters to exercise caution in lakes, canals and the Kissimmee River.
Levels are currently at 49.5 feet, thanks to weekend downpours that showered the area with some much needed rain.
But Osceola County Natural Resources Manager Terry Torrens said the lock isn’t in the clear yet.
“The rain definitely doesn’t hurt, but things have been dry for a while,” she said. “It’s hard to tell just how much this recent rain will help.”
Another obstacle that remains for boaters and others navigating Osceola County waterways this month are sandbars.
Sandbars, or shoals, are naturally occurring accumulations of dirt and sand that rise near enough to the surface of a body of water that it creates a danger to navigation.
Several large shoals have formed in local waterways, including one at the mouth of Shingle Creek and Lake Toho and a massive one near the Southport lock of southern Lake Toho.
Torrens said that although shoals occur naturally, increased development could make them form faster.
“When you have more development going on near the shores of a lake or creek, you have fewer trees and other vegetation holding on to lose dirt, sand and silt,” she said. “So a lot of those materials are now swept into the water, where they can come together to form large shoals.”
Torrens said unexpected flooding, like the kind following Hurricane Irma last year, can also impact how quickly shoals form.
Sandbars can have a major impact on navigating waterways. The shoal near the Southport lock, for example, is so large that only airboats and other vehicles with shallow draft can currently maneuver around it, Torrens said.
Removing these obstacles isn’t cheap, though. The one near Shingle Creek and Lake Toho is estimated to cost $900,000 over a three-year period to remove, and Torrens said her department is still waiting to hear back from the Army Corps of Engineers on how much it will cost to remove the sandbar near Southport lock.
Because the process is costly, the county relies on state and federal funding to get the work done.
“We have to prioritize these projects,” Torrens said. “If boats can still navigate around them, they aren’t high on the priority list the way this one is in south Lake Toho.”