Lee County to improve water quality at Lakes Regional Park

Lakes Regional Park

7330 Gladiolus Drive, Fort Myers, FL

— The centerpiece of Lakes Regional Park soon will get a long-awaited cleanup.

After three years of planning, studies and meetings, Lee County is moving forward with water quality improvements to West Lake, a 158-acre body of water at the South Fort Myers park.

Lee County commissioners, at a recent meeting, hired a construction company to do the work.

Douglas N. Higgins Inc. will start installation of structures, which will flush the lake of nutrients and impurities, at the end of this month. Completion of the project is expected by summer.

“The quality of the water has been a problem for quite some time,” said Anura Karuna-Muni, manager of the improvement project. “The additions will significantly change the lake and make it more attractive to people and wildlife.”

According to a county report, water quality monitoring data has shown increasing nutrient levels in the lake since 1984, causing it to look murkier and greener through the years. Currently, there is limited visibility in the water. The objective of the project is to boost circulation with inflow and outflow structures that will flush nutrients. It also will provide for additional nutrient removal by adding wetland plants on the three small islands in the lake.

“It is near stagnant and nutrients continue to accumulate, which doesn’t allow enough oxygen for animals and fish,” Karuna-Muni said.

In addition to nutrients, it also collects toxic impurities from the urban area. The lake takes in groundwater, surface water runoff and rainfall. The runoff is especially dangerous because it is channeled through roads, parking lots and fertilized lawns. Then, the polluted water discharges into Hendry Creek and lets out into the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve.

“It’s harmful for the environment and the already sensitive Estero Bay ecosystem,” said Bob Repenning, land stewardship coordinator for Lee County parks.

Once construction begins, Karuna-Muni said, there will be no restrictions on public access.

“We will take great care to allow usage,” Karuna-Muni said. “Anyone who wants to use the lake can.”

Now, the large lake is used for fishing, canoeing, kayaking and paddle boating. Swimming isn’t allowed. Years ago, there was a beach on the south side of the lake. Officials shut it down because it didn’t meet state water-quality standards for swimming.

And that will not return to the lake for some time.

Repenning said that although improvements will finish in the summer, changes to the water quality might not be seen for several years. There are two other restoration projects set for the lake in the future, including plans for additional filtering.

John Shaffer, the owner of Wheel Fun Rentals, operates two stands near the lake, offering concessions and boat rentals. He welcomes any cleanup efforts to attract more people even if it will take awhile.

“The cleaner the water, the more attractive it will be for recreation and better for the environment,” said Shaffer who has owned the company since 2008. “It’s a win-win situation.”

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