East Lake Tohopekaliga Habitat Enhancement Project
One of the management strategies the FWC uses to enhance and restore the shallow-water habitat of Florida’s lakes is managed drawdowns and nuisance aquatic plant and organic sediment removal.
These management activities enhance fish and wildlife habitat that has degraded over decades due to stabilized water levels as a result of flood control and water supply. When lakes do not maintain naturally fluctuating water levels, the buildup of nuisance aquatic vegetation and organic sediments (muck) on the lake bottom occurs.
In winter and spring 2020, the FWC conducted a drawdown habitat enhancement project on East Lake Tohopekaliga in Osceola County. The goal of the project was to manage the lake’s aquatic habitat for the long-term benefit of fish and wildlife as well as the people who use these resources.
Benefits of the Project
- Removal of nuisance aquatic plants and associated organic sediment otherwise known as “muck.”
- Enhancement of lake bottom as foraging, spawning, and protective habitat for invertebrate, fish, waterfowl and wading bird populations.
- Establishment of desirable native aquatic plant communities and increased diversity of plant species.
- Improvement of water movement within the shallow marsh.
- Reduction in nutrient levels, leading to improved water quality and dissolved oxygen levels.
- Improvement in lake access for recreational users including anglers, hunters, wildlife watchers, pleasure boaters, etc.
- Increase in aesthetic value for the lake.
In order to complete the restoration, the water level of East Lake Tohopekaliga was lowered two feet below the normal low pool stage. In addition to dry-down of the lake’s shallow-water habitat, the FWC conducted a suite of habitat enhancement activities, including mechanical scraping to remove large areas of organic sediments and dense vegetation which has accumulated over time due to stabilized water levels, selective herbicide treatment of cattail and noxious plant species, and burning of treated vegetation to reduce leaf litter and woody material deposition.
Management activities such as ecologically responsible drawdowns, excessive plant and organic sediment removal, and prescribed burns help improve habitat for fish, waterfowl, wading birds and other wildlife populations, while also allowing improved lake access for anglers, boaters and hunters. This management is especially beneficial to the Endangered Everglade snail kite, which uses water-bodies throughout the Kissimmee-Okeechobee-Everglades ecosystem for foraging, nesting and rearing young.
Application of drawdowns and prescribed burning is part of an integrated management approach used by the FWC on many lakes and wetlands throughout Florida. They are a safe way to apply natural processes and ensure ecosystem health.