By Ken Jackson
Because of low lake levels due to the recent drought conditions that have created navigational safety concerns, the South Florida Water Management District closed the S-61 Boat Lock at the south end of Lake Tohopekaliga on Sunday.
The lock will reopen when conditions allow for safe navigation, but the lack of rain, on the heals of a wet 2016, has created shoaling, or sand bars just under the surface of a body of water that can run a boat aground and damage it.
The S-61 enables boating navigation between Lake Tohopekaliga and Cypress Lake via the C-35 Canal, also known as the Southport Canal. Those who want boat access to Lake Cypress must put in their boats on that lake, or come up from the south, until the lock reopens.
Early last week, a pair of boaters “hit something” in the C-35 Canal and were thrown from their boat, raising concerns.
County Natural Resources Manager Terry Torrens said the only thing that can help the situation is a steady rain.
“We’re definitely waiting on the rain and we’re in the low pool,” she said. “If this was a normal year, we’d recede levels for hurricane coverage, but because of the drought, and the wind, and the heat, that has already happened faster.”
Lakes Toho and Cypress are at low levels, but aren’t the only problem spots in the county due to low water levels. Torrens noted a shoal at the mouth of Shingle Creek, but all waterways need to be navigated carefully.
“I’m sure there’s others,” she said. “We’re asking boaters to use extreme caution due to unseen hazards they wouldn’t normally be expecting.”
For more information and updates on the S-61 lock or other Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, contact Bill Graf at 407-858-6100, Ext. 3837, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.